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“Old Chunk of Coal” is also a fitting tribute to Cash’s art over 50 years. Time and again, he took his plain baritone and spare guitar work into the recording mine and emerged with one shimmering creation after another.
Not everything on Unearthed works as well, although even the misses tend to be interesting. A rendition of Neil Young’s incoherent “Pocahontas” sounds like it was recorded on Haight-Asbury. It is a ridiculous song by an overrated songwriter, but Cash compensates with a knowing baritone that almost seems to wink at the absurdity. The set wastes space on several re-dos of Cash classics like “Long Black Veil” that were better left undisturbed. The duets are hit and miss. Neither Fiona Apple nor Glen Campbell is well served on “Father and Son” and “Gentle on My Mind.” Their vocals float in and out of the mix. It sounds less like they are singing than muttering under their breath.
ON THE OTHER HAND, at least two duets are near sublime: “Redemption Song” with former Clash frontman Joe Strummer and “Cindy” with the eclectic Nick Cave. The first is a rendition of the Bob Marley classic that achieves special poignancy due to the demise of both men not long afterwards, and to the camaraderie their voices achieve. They sing as if inside a church adjoining a tavern. The latter, an old country standard, plucks and twangs away with great humor, one of the lightest and most pleasurable tracks Cash recorded in many years. It’s guaranteed to make Red State Americans tap their feet and urban hipsters run for cover, desirable effects in their own right.
An entire CD is devoted to “My Mother’s Hymn Book,” 15 acoustic renditions of standards like “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” It is the most consistent disk in the box and surpasses Cash’s previous gospel work in depth and power. The disc should remind listeners that Cash cannot be defined in one hue: he was always The Man in Black and White. Of course, there is a certain humor to assigning one disk to Cash’s “religious” songs, as if the almighty doesn’t lurk around the corner in most others as well. It reminds me of when I heard of Ingmar Bergman’s “Religious Trilogy” of films and asked a friend, “Only three?”
Cash recorded at least 100 songs for his first American album alone, so even with Unearthed we haven’t come close to hearing them all. And then there are the outtakes for whatever is left off of American V. Could there be an Exhumed in our future? Judging from the evidence here, I can only say in words that I know John Kerry understands: Bring…it…on!
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?