The impact of Johnny Cash on not only Country music but music in general is vast. The legendary musician passed away almost 15 years ago but his music continues to live on and it inspires a new generation of artists. In 2016 a book was released titled Forever Words, which collected together unseen lyrics, letters and poems penned by Cash. Two years on from that members of Cash’s family and artists he was connected to in some way have assembled to turn that book into a 16-track album.
Johnny Cash: Forever Words is an ambitious project. With an artist as respected and revered as Cash, it must have been pretty daunting for all involved to put their own spin on his work. The fact that these songs were created from unseen and unheard words makes it a slightly easier task but still carrying the gravitas that Cash always managed, is no easy thing to do. The collection kicks off with Forever/I Still Miss Someone by Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. The short track sets the tone with Kristofferson utilising his gravelly speaking voice to almost imitate Cash.
From that point on the music begins and it’s a richly varied collection. Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves, who are husband and wife, give a very strong contribution on To June This Morning. The words are taken from a letter Cash wrote to his wife and it’s a beautiful moment. Banjo and acoustic drives the track with Kelly and Musgraves harmonising for the duration of the track. Brad Paisley provides an early highlight with Gold All Over the Ground, which is a song that you could believe he wrote himself. It fits nicely into the kind of material he’s known for and it’s a great track.
One of the most talked-about moments on the record is Chris Cornell’s contribution, You Never Knew My Mind. This is the first posthumous track released featuring Cornell’s vocals and it feels all the more poignant for that. The words he sings sound a little eerie given that he’s no longer with us but the passion he packs into his vocal is stirring. The instrumentation brings to mind Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and it’s a pretty powerful moment on the record.
Elsewhere on the record Rosanne Cash gives a haunting performance on The Walking Wounded, Carlene Carter’s earthy voice sends shivers down your spine on the moody June’s Sundown, and things get experimental on the soulful Goin’, Goin’, Gone by Robert Glasper featuring Ro James and Anu Sun. One of my favourite moments comes on the acoustic Body on Body by Jewel. It’s fitting that she’s part of the record given that she played June Carter Cash on screen in 2013 TV movie Ring of Fire. She puts in one of the best vocals and it’s a powerful moment.
Johnny Cash: Forever Words is an interesting project that gets better with every listen. Not every track on here is a winner but there’s a lot to unpack and delve into. It’s interesting listening to such an eclectic range of artists tackling the work of Cash and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more volumes like this over the coming years. It’s a solid effort that pays a touching tribute to the legendary star’s memory and it’s something his fans can cherish.
Track list: 1. Forever / I Still Miss Someone (Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson) 2. To June This Morning (Ruston Kelly & Kacey Musgraves) 3. Gold All Over the Ground (Brad Paisley) 4. You Never Knew My Mind (Chris Cornell) 5. The Captain’s Daughter (Alison Krauss & Union Station) 6. Jellico Coal Man (T Bone Burnett) 7. The Walking Wounded (Rosanne Cash) 8. Them Double Blues (John Mellencamp) 9. Body on Body (Jewel) 10. I’ll Still Love You (Elvis Costello) 11. June’s Sundown (Carlene Carter) 12. He Bore It All (Dailey & Vincent) 13. Chinky Pin Hill (I’m With Her) 14. Goin’, Goin’, Gone (Robert Glasper) 15. What Would I Dreamer Do (The Jayhawks) 16. Spirit Rider (Jamey Johnson) Record label: Sony Music Release date: 6th April 2018