Sunday, 15 May 2011
Last week I posted my interview with Tony Tost about his book on Johnny Cash's American Recordings album. One of the things I like about the book is that it shares my view that some of the covers JC tackled on his later albums with Rick Rubin, quite frankly, sucked.
With this in mind I asked Tony to come up with a list for Carnival Saloon of the Worst of American Recordings. Being a creative chap Tony suggested something much better. What songs should Johnny Cash have covered in those final, highly productive, years of his life?
Over to Tony...
MP3: The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God
This list is inspired by my undying wish that Cash would have covered this song in particular. It hits the self/God/land trifecta perfectly, showing how intimately interwoven personal, divine and communal identities can be. It would have to be slowed down, of course, but I'd trust that Marty Stuart and friends could find a nice rambling rhythm for it. The lyrics are reminiscent of Cash at his Big River best: all around the dark-hearted protagonist, the natural and supernatural worlds come alive, inspired by his restlessness.
Buy The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God on Amazon
MP3: Guy Clark - The Randall Knife
Essentially a recitation, this is a superbly controlled song, and one of the best illustrations of TS Eliot's notion of the Objective Correlative I've come across. Eliot believed, rightly, that in the best art, objects accrue emotional resonances to a point that the objects stand in for those emotions. Not as vague symbols, however. The best works of art accumulate emotions unique to themselves. Via precision. In the song, Guy Clark finds that he cannot weep for the death of his father, even though he is presented with a series of objects that should, conceivably, do the job. It is not until he finds the object worthy of his father's life that he can find tears, and it is no coincidence that this worthy object is one that touches upon marriage, country, war, fatherhood and disappointment, all at once.
Buy Guy Clark - Better Days at Amazon
MP3: The Highwaymen - Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
Cash covered Woody Guthrie's song with The Highwaymen, but I would love to hear it solo. A bitter, angry song that is all the more effective because it controls its bitterness and anger, finding the correct, specific images for its outrage. Again, God and land and family and self mingle here, shown to be inextricable from one another. Rubin could have brought in Calexico to do the arrangement, as they have nailed the sort of The-Band-meets-Warren-Zevon's-Carmelita vibe that I find irresistible on their cover of Tom T Hall's Tulsa Telephone Book (see below) and their backing work on the I'm Not There soundtrack. If I was Rick Rubin, I would've hired Calexico and presented Cash with this song, Dylan's Senor (Tales of Yankee Power), Zevon's Carmelita, Los Lobos' Will the Wolf Survive, Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty and some Doug Sahm and Gram Parsons numbers. There's still time to do this album with Willie Nelson. Someone get to it, quickly. Please.
Buy The Highwayman Collection at Amazon
MP3: Townes Van Zandt - To Live Is to Fly
Maybe the most moving song I can imagine, the specificity and deep resonance of its imagery, and the gentleness of its sentiment, kill me every time. The last three albums Cash did, it seemed that he and Rubin were piling on the he-might-just-croak-after-this-one vibe. Fine. But instead of Danny Boy or boomer pablum like In My Life, why not a song that seems to encompass all the awful, joyful, baffling fullness of life?
Buy Townes Van Zandt - Texas Troubadour at Amazon
MP3: Calexico - Tulsa Telephone Book (Tom T. Hall cover)
The Tom T Hall tribute album Real should be a must for Carnival Saloon regulars. This is one of the many highlights of a record that also features Johnny Cash, Whiskeytown, Iris DeMent, Freedy Johnston and many more.
Buy Real: The Tom T Hall Project at Amazon
I appreciate Tony taking the time to share this list. A fantastic selection don't you think? And the sort of insightful writing you'll be unaccustomed to around these parts.
So, they're Tony's picks. What would yours be?
Tony Tost on Johnny Cash's American Recordings - my interview with Tony
Johnny Cash: Chicken in Black - just so you know why Johnny needed a credibility comeback
A Cup of Coffee with Johnny Cash - Cash hawks Folgers, as heard on Tony Tost's America
Tony Tost's America - if you like Carnival Saloon, you'll love Tony's podcast
33 ⅓ books - official blog for the series