Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars

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Posthumous releases by acclaimed musicians are as reliable as me having a cup of coffee in the morning. Typically there is a rush released album shortly after the artist bids farewell to this mortal coil, perhaps it even retains the quality the artist was known for. Each subsequent album dips in quality. For every Tupac Shakur, there are a few exceptions to the rule. John Lennon’s after death recording career maintained his exacting standards, and it seems that Johnny Cash is following suit. Not counting the Bootleg series, Out Among The Stars is the 3rd full studio album released since his death, and the 1st in over 4 years.

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Johnny Cash – Delia’s Gone

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Today marks 10 years since Johnny Cash left us so I thought I’d interrupt the regularly scheduled reviews to post a special Attack of the Killer Track! article. There was a certain sense of symmetry in following up a Nine Inch Nails review with a piece about The Man in Black that I couldn’t resist. In the early 90’s Johnny Cash’s popularity was on a downturn, his 1991 album The Mystery of Life only receiving an initial pressing of 500 copies from Mercury Records. This paved the way for the comeback of Johnny Cash with 1994’s Rick Rubin production, American Recordings. Rick Rubin of course was closely associated with the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C in the mid 80’s (and currently mugging in the new Eminem video). Rubin urged Cash to record in a minimalist setting, which suited the stark material. Rubbing up against material penned by Glenn Danzig, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Cash himself was a Karl Silbersdorf and Dick Toops song that Cash had previously recorded in 1962. The basis of the song was the murder of Delia Green on Christmas Day in 1900. Delia’s Gone was the epitome of “Outlaw Country” – stark, unsettling, with vivid imagery. The story of love gone wrong with a final resolution – this is gangsta rap as filtered through Johnny Cash (which Bono of U2 hinted at in his essay included with the Love, God, Murder box set). Johnny Cash of course also covered U2’s “One”, and THAT video was directed by Anton Corbijn who directed the video for “Delia’s Gone”. The video stars Kate Moss in the role of Delia and it really is a masterpiece of sound & vision. Shake the image of the Johnny Cash who covered Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” towards the end of his life. In its stead, listen to Outlaw Johnny Cash singing these verses:

She was low down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to grab my sub machine
Delia’s gone, one more round Delia’s gone

First time I shot her I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia’s gone, one more round Delia’s gone

Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

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2013 is proving to be an amazing year for the return of artists who first rose to fame in previous decades. For electronic tinged music, this is especially so. Earlier this year we saw the unexpected return of David Bowie, with a strong album that brought to mind his “Berlin Trilogy” musically and visually (that cropped cover of the Heroes album is a conversation starter). The Pet Shop Boys followed suit a few months later by delivering their strongest album in years, a hard-hitting, beat heavy masterpiece. It only figures that with the 70’s and 80’s represented this year, the final part of the trilogy would be filled with a band who really took off in the 90’s, Nine Inch Nails.

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Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Posthumous albums by major artists can present a challenge to the fans of those artists. Sure, I can appreciate the records Tupac Shakur cut during his lifetime but do we really need an endless parade of archival material that wasn’t suitable for release during his lifetime? So it goes. It was with great trepidation in mid 2006 when I bought American V: A Hundred Highways – the 1st record of unreleased Johnny Cash material that he cut just prior to his death on September 12, 2003. I needn’t have worried so much – not only was the album of stunning quality, it was also his 1st #1 record since 1969’s Johnny Cash at San Quentin. Personally speaking (and this is my site after all), it gave a track that will go on every CASH mix I make until the day I die – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. The track is notable for featuring an intoxicating mix of militant & gospel based sounds, Johnny’s righteous voice driving the point home with every syllable. The song is based on a traditional folk tune and has been recorded by quite a few artists in the past (Johnny Cash’s Sun Records buddy Elvis Presley being the most notable). None of them approached the material from this angle – this is the best version ever laid to tape. The video is notable for featuring a ridiculous amount of celebrities, driving home the point that the love of Johnny Cash is a universal condition (and one that doesn’t need to be treated). It gives me chills to hear Johnny Cash sing these words:

He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do My will!”

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man

Part 23 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

In the late 90’s / early 00’s one of my best friends was a cowboy. Not in the sense of dealing with livestock followed by romantic nights in a tent – it was more like he wore cowboy hats and drove a Ford truck. For me, that’s pretty damn close to being a cowboy. We were opposite in almost every way imaginable, but for a time we hung out every weekend. I’d drag him to the Princeton Record Exchange with some of my other friends, and he’d drag me to the rodeo.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana

There comes a point in an artist’s career where every album release is accompanied by a the double-edged damning praise statement “it is INSERT ARTISTS NAME best album since….landmark album, usually from about 20 years ago”. There are a few schools of thought when it comes to this:

1. Lazy journalism

2. Truly the artist reached a peak with that landmark album and for some reason has never been able to match that level of artistry since

3. The listener has not gone into the album with an open mind, saddling the artists final work with the listeners preconceived notions of what the album should sound like (usually, but not always tied into #1)

Neil Young seems to be an artist that confounds reviewers. Almost every album since 1989’s Freedom has included some sort of praise saying “wow, this is Neil’s best album since…”. 18 months goes by, Neil puts another album out and the cycle starts all over again. Every reviewer mysteriously comes down with a case of amnesia about the review they had just written a year and a half before. Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about: Continue reading

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Everything I know about Sweden can be distilled into the following:

  1. IKEA
  2. Swedish Fish (usually purchased at IKEA)
  3. Lingonberry Jam (purchased at IKEA)
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  5. Pärson Sound  – International Harvester – Harvester – Träd, Gräs och Stenar (same band basically in different incarnations) are my favorite psychedelic band and they are from Sweden
  6. The Jens Lekman song “The Cold Swedish Winter” with its lyrics “When people think of Sweden / like Cliff Richards who thought it was just / porn and gonorrhea / And Lou Reed said in the film / Blue in the Face / that compared to New York City / Sweden is a scary place