Johnny Cash has always championed the little guy who faces down the giants in his world with a mature sense of satisfaction. In his memorable musical stories, Cash tells about how corporate headquarters doesn’t know what’s going on right in their own backyards, about how the tax man and the toll taker don’t realize that the little guy has found a loophole, about how someone was unfaithful to someone else for just a little bit, and about how the prison guards don’t realize that not everybody is the enemy. Sometimes, as with many blues and country & western songs, the singer paints a sorrowful picture, but Cash has always provided some kind of hope. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
NorthernBlues has put together an interesting collection of Johnny Cash songs – the songs that have helped mold our characters and have turned more than just a few days around in a positive manner. The lyrics take center stage, as each of the lead singers involved in this tribute project interprets these songs in his/her own sweet way. It takes getting used to. Johnny Cash has made such an impact over the years that many of these songs seem alien without Cash’s deep voice and unique form of expression. Only Sleepy Lebeef has made an attempt to imitate Johnny Cash, however, and since he’s singing “Frankie and Johnny,” that works out well.
Each of the others provides a truly unique interpretation. Corey Harris incorporates natural percussion and chanted vocals into his impassioned study of “Redemption.” Maria Muldaur settles in with a deep, comfortable tradition for “Walking the Blues.” Chris Thomas King sings “Rock Island Line” with simple, linear accompaniment. Gatemouth Brown swings lightly through “Get Rhythm” and Harry Manx soliloquies somberly on “Long Black Veil.” Kevin Breit’s instrumental arrangement of “Send a Picture of Mother” includes a festive Latin air, while Colin Linden’s contemporary take on “Big River” drives his rhythm section indelibly deep. The album finishes with a quiet, family gathering of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by Mavis Staples with guitar, harmonica, keyboard, bass and hand claps.
Johnny’s Blues pays homage to the man and his songs with utmost respect. NorthernBlues’ talented artists have paid Cash a superb compliment by sharing their own unique interpretations of his music.