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Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Man in Black

Until Johnny Cash released his single "Hurt", written by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), I never paid much attention to him. However, it didn't mean that I ignored the fact that he is a legend and huge contributor to music, past and present.

Last weekend at my dad's, my wife and I saw "Walk The Line" for the first time. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash. I had wanted to see it for a very long time but just never got around to it. After seeing the film, I felt stupid for waiting so long to see it.

While many critics say that Joaquin didn't match the bravado of Cash, I think he did a fantastic job. Reese was miraculous as June Carter and received an Oscar for her performance. Being that I hadn't followed the story of Cash prior to seeing the movie, I can't necessarily speak to the accuracy of the events. However, I felt like I was watching Johnny Cash on screen instead of an actor playing him. I'm still puzzled about how Joaquin projected that darkness in his voice that Johnny just naturally had.

After seeing the movie, I got much more interested in Cash's music. I have the soundtrack to "Walk The Line", with all songs sung by Joaquin and Reese. I know others may not agree, but if you heard the album without knowing who was singing you may just assume it was Cash and Carter from one of their own records. To me, the main difference was the volume and tone of the recordings that give it away. If you listen to the original recordings from Johnny Cash, the sound isn't quite as crisp and loud due to the lack of recording technology we have in today's studios. While the clarity and fidelity may be lacking from those old recordings, his charisma and edgy storytelling are loud and clear.

I have the "Legend of Johnny Cash" CD and it covers the basics for anyone who just needs a simple collection. Cash's "At Folsom Prison" is definitely a fine example of what made him the "Man in Black". Just released in 2006 is a CD of duets with Johnny and June Carter which is definitely worth picking up if you want to hear what musical chemistry is supposed to sound like.


Some of his newer work can be heard on his "American Recordings" series on which he puts his signature on some popular songs and makes them all his own. Best examples are "Personal Jesus" from Depeche Mode and "Rusty Cage" by Soundgarden.

American V: A Hundred Highways contains "Like The 309", the last song written and recorded by Johnny Cash.

American IV: The Man Comes Around contains "Hurt" and "Personal Jesus" (mentioned above) and the classic rock staple "Desperado". Another track on this album which captured my attention is "Tear Stained Letter".

Whether you're a die-hard fan of Johnny Cash or only know him by one or two songs, you are certain to understand why he is a legend and an icon in the music industry. I'm just starting to fully explore his body of music but I've already begun to realize just how much he means to the music industry.

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