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Hollywood Karaoke...but better than you might think
on 27 March 2006
The first problem to overcome with this CD is quite simple. The majority of the songs may be Johnny Cash classics, but are they in any way relevant when Johnny Cash himself is not singing them?
The answer, whilst leaning towards no, is actually more of a maybe. For a start, Joaquin Phoenix is certainly no Johnny Cash but that is not to say that he is without merits as a gravelled country singer. Although he can't hope to bring the gravitas to the songs that Cash did, he does make a pretty decent stab at things and if you can ignore, or push to oneside, the spectre of Johnny himself there is much to enjoy. In particular the versions of Cry Cry Cry, Folsom Prison Blues and Ring Of Fire have a modern charm which is hard to resist.
So then it's onto Reese Witherspoon. Some claim she has an impossible task in attempting to emulate June Carter-Cash...well I wouldn't neccesarily agree. I've never been a fan of Carter-Cash and feel without the Carter and Cash legacies to keep her going she'd have been long-forgotten. So Wildwood Flower and Jukebox Blues are pretty good efforts which don't prove embarassing at all by any standards.
The other cast recordings are a hotch potch. The version of Lewis Boogie is dreadful, souding every inch the performance parody that probably wasn't the idea, whilst That's Allright Mama and You're My Baby are the kind of tunes to really set your foot tapping, respectfully carried out with the minimum of fuss.
The album closes with the Pheonix/Witherspoon duet Jackson which fizzles with chemistry and tension and proves that for the singing element of the movie alone, both deserve their oscar nominations.
So all in all, whilst struggling to find a "need" to have this CD, I cannot deny that it is a success on many levels. Credit to Pheonix and Witherspoon for rising to the challenge, and credit to prodcuer T Bone Burnett for fashioning a modern, but more importanly respectful, take on some Cash classics.
If you're a Cash fan then give this a try, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. If you're not a Cash fan but want to check him out on the strength of the film, there are worse places to start, but really your attention should be focussed towards discovering his Sun Recordings, or the American recordings, which became his final legacy.