Country Jukebox Jury LP: Johnny Cash – Forever Words (Expanded Edition)

Here come 18 more tracks which have been interpreted by contemporary artists based on John’s original words. The first set of 16 songs came out in 2018 on the Forever Words collection and they included Gold All Over The Ground, a ballad in June Carter Cash’s honour which Brad Paisley included on his album Love & War (which he is still yet to formally follow up).

The first tranche of new tunes from last October included Elvis Costello’s blistering take on If You Love Me and John Carter Cash’s wife Ana Cristina singing Brand New Pair of Shoes (‘Walking till I lose all my mighty blues’), which is given a New Orleans-type feel.

The second tranche, released just before Christmas, included the bluegrass-tastic The Dogs Are In The Woods, by John McEuen, Clare Bowen and husband Brandon Robert Young harmonising the tender Little Patch of Grass and John’s old mate Marty Stuart interpreting the lyric I’ve Been Around with a Cash-like burr. In February came the third set, Jewel’s rootsy take on Does Anybody Out There Love Me? is terrific, as is the honkytonkin Let It Be Tonight by Trick Pony bassist/singer Ira Dean. The Lumineers bring Pretty Pictures in My Mind to life.

The final set includes five songs, one pairing Ronnie Dunn and Brad Paisley’s band: Ronnie sounds great on Outta Site Tonite, which is almost a homage to Cash, complete with a band who ‘shake the neighbourhood’ and ‘do their thing’. Runaway June performed My Song at the Opry and the studio version sees them go full Dixie Chicks on a sweet tune on which the girls, not John Cash, want to sing a song ‘for you’. Natalie Stovall’s fiddle is gentle and I expect the next Runaway June project will go big on fiddles solo, which is A Good Thing.

Three gents round off the collection. Ruston Kelly adds his wonderful baritone to Dark and Bloody Ground with its lyric about a woman in Kentucky and a man wearing ‘killing shoes’ with a very Rustonish sonic bed. Aaron Lewis, from off of Staind, takes The Third Degree, a murder ballad which begins with gospel handclaps and a worksong chant.

Finally, over eight minutes, Bill Miller offers Tecumseh about ‘an Indian boy born on sacred ground’ whose people were driven away from their ancestral land. ‘The prophet still walks among us’ ends the song. It reminds listeners that Johnny went through a phase where he clung to religion, and even made a documentary film about Jesus and Israel. He was more than just the outlaw who got kicked out of the Opry for bringing a drummer, and the old man who covered that Nine Inch Nails song.

Explore Forever Words, and buy the poetry book which inspired it too.

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