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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Johnny Cash, Daniel Merriweather and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, February 22, 2010

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Johnny Cash

“American VI: Ain’t No Grave”

American Recordings/Lost Highway


It’s very likely that Johnny Cash knew he was dying when he recorded this final entry in his celebrated American Recordings series with producer Rick Rubin in 2002-03, but it’s perfectly in character that he’d start out by singing “ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down.” Even in his later years, Cash remained the Man in Black — steadfast and defiant even if he was letting glimpses of vulnerability and even melancholy seep into his work with Rubin. If the exit door of this mortal coil beckoned — he was, after all, in poor health and had just buried his wife, June Carter Cash — he was going down swinging. Or at least singing. The specter of mortality haunts all 10 songs here, but Cash stares it full in the face, never blinking as he assures us that “when it comes my time, I’ll leave this world with a satisfied mind.” “American VI,” then, is as satisfying as the rest of the series with the same type of intimate, sitting room austerity (it was recorded at the aptly named Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn.) that was the trademark of its predecessors. “Hope springs eternal” in Cash’s own “I Corinthians 15:55,” while an all-star cast of musicians — including members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Avett Brothers, guitarist Smokey Hormel from Beck’s band and Jonny Polonsky — offer tasteful, ambient accompaniment to Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day,” Tom Paxton’s “Where I’m Bound” and Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water.” And Queen Lili’uokalani’s “Aloha Oe” proves a fitting finale, a farewell with just a touch of lightness and a promise of “until we meet again.” We can only hope.


Daniel Merriweather, “Love & War” (J/Allido) ***

Our first taste — worldwide, at least — of Daniel Merriweather was the Australian singer’s guest turn on “Stop Me” from producer Mark Ronson’s “Version” album in 2007. Good track, but Merriweather’s debut album shows it was merely a sample of the soulful stylings he’s credibly adopted from influences such as Otis Redding, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, which are well-served on these dozen songs. Backed by New York’s dazzling Dap Kings, Merriweather channels Elton John (“For Your Money”), vintage Holland-Dozier-Holland (“Impossible”), Muscle Shoals (“Chainsaw”) and Memphis (“Cigarettes”), while “Could You” marries Gamble & Huff with “California Dreamin’.” “Love & War” is mostly a battlefield of romantic heartbreak, but Merriweather’s performances make you believe every angsty emotion.

New & Noteworthy:

Alkaline Trio, “This Addiction” (Heart & Skull/Epitaph): The Chicago punk trio went back home and recorded its seventh studio album with early producer Matt Allison.

Brian Jonestown Massacre, “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?” (A Records): The American modern rock collective recorded its 11th album in Iceland and Germany for group leader Anton Newcombe’s newly established A Records label.

David Broza, “Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt” (S-Curve): Eleven of the 12 tracks on the Israeli singer-songwriter’s new album come from poems left to him by late Texas troubadour Van Zandt.

Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Genuine Negro Jug” (Nonesuch): Rochester Adams grad Joe Henry produced the national label debut by this spirited, traditionalist African-American trio.

Clem Snide, “The Meat of Life” (429): The New York alt.country trio delivers its first album since reuniting in 2009.

Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, “Ali & Toumani” (World Circuit/Nonesuch): Two of Africa’s most celebrated musicians join forces again after winning a Grammy Award for their first collaboration, 2005’s “In the Heart of the Moon.”

High on Fire, “Snakes For the Divine” (E1): The Oakland, Calif., metal trio recorded its fifth studio album in Los Angeles with producer Greg Fidelman.

Will Kimbrough, “Wings” (Daphne): The Alabama singer-songwriter’s latest album features a title track co-written with good pal Jimmy Buffet, who also recorded it on his latest release, 2009’s “Buffet Hotel.”

Marley’s Ghost, “Ghost Town” (Sage Arts): The Americana cult band’s first album in three years was produced by Cowboy Jack Clement, with a cover painting by artist William Matthews.

Moreland & Arbuckle, “Flood” (Telarc International): The debut national label release by the roots rock duo from Kansas.

Carrie Newcomer, “Before and After” (Rounder): The latest release from the southwestern Michigan singer-songwriter follows 2008’s “The Geography of Light,” which Folk Wax magazine dubbed Album of the Year (and Newcomer its Artist of the Year).

John Pizzarelli, “Rockin in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington” (Telarc International): Signer-guitarist Pizzarelli and his Swing Seven band take on the Ellington songs he first learned from his father, Bucky Pizzarelli.

Rocket Summer, “Of Men & Angels” (Island Def Jam): Texan modern rocker Stephen Bryce Avary featured three of the songs from his new album on the 2009 EP “You Gotta Believe.”

Sharif, “Kisses and Lies” (self-released): The Egyptian-American singer-songwriter collaborated with Old 97’s Rhett Miller on “Dark Side of the Dawn,” the first single from his third album.

Shout Out Louds, “Work” (Merge): The Swedish rock quintet recorded its third album in Seattle with producer Phil Ek, who’s also worked with the Shins, Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses.

Rob Swift, “The Architect” (Ipecac): An ambitious conceptual work from the turntable virtuoso and former X-ecutioners member.

Various Artists, “Snoop Dogg Presents: The West Coast Blueprint” (Priority): Snoop Dogg, in his new role as Priority Records’ creative chairman, contributes a new cover of Ice Cube’s “Check Yo Self” to this celebration of classic moments from the label’s 25-year history.

Butch Walker and the Black Widows, “I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart” (One Haven): Walker, best known as a producer and songwriter, cranks up the volume on a rocking set that showcases influences from Americana to glam.

Was (Not Was), “Pick of the Litter (1980-2010)” (Micro Werks): A 19-song overview from the Detroit-formed collective that features the late Knack frontman Doug Fieger as part of its all-star collaborators guest list.

We Are Wolves, “Invisible Violence” (Day To Care): The third album from the Quebecois electronic dance/rock trio.

From The Vaults: Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Masters (1960-1963) (Hip—O Select); Eazy-E, “Eazy-Duz-It (Uncut Snoop Dogg Approved)” (Priority); EMPM, “Strictly Business (Uncut Snoop Dogg Approved)” (Priority); Master P, “Ghetto D” (Uncut Snoop Dogg Approved)” (Priority); Essra Mohawk, “Sandy’s Album is Here at Last!,” “Primordial Lovers” and “Essra Mohawk” (Collector’s Choice); Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning (Expanded Edition)”

New Music DVDs: Joan Armatrading, “Steppin’ Out” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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