Now that Johnny is recovering from his annual bout with pneumonia,
letís recap. He does not have Parkinsonís. He does have Shy-Dragerís.
He does not have radio-play. He does have a new recording
that is flying out of the stores. He has a whole new generation
of fans that share Cashís one-digit sentiment for mainstream
radio, country or otherwise. Consider it a blessing that the
gems on this album wonít be sandwiched between the country
equivalent of Winger and Tiffany.
The first tune gives a Buddy Holly fake-out before it sinks
in. Instead of "Maybe Baby," itís an unexpectedly spry
version of "Wonít Back Down." Tom Petty provides cartoony
backing vocals. The tone is very clean and simple with meaty
acoustics. The title track, being the Neil Diamond standard,
continues the solid guitar backing set forth. Beautifully
delivered, and again with minimal production. The instruments
and Petty again in the background keep Johnny in the focus.
"That Lucky Old Sun" is a front-porch folk song akin to "Old
Man River." It must be a part of his life like "Folsom Prison"
is a part of mine. Cash won a talent contest with this one
as a youth. Lazy and sad, itís a very fitting traditional
song made new to many of us. Bass piano accents keeping time
add to the old-tyme feel. "One" will get the most amazement
from the younger crowd, especially if you surprise someone
with it. Once the shock of recognition wears off, it becomes
Johnnyís song. The rhythm is perfectly suited for desperate
country-folk. It suddenly makes sense in its context. The
tragic humor of "Nobody" conjures images of Al Jolson and
Jimmy Durante. A 100-year-old vaudeville tune stolen from
delta blues. Itís heavy on self-pity and lonesome lyrics.
Occasionally, a song affirms things you already now. Touching
something you havenít found the words for. "I See A Darkness"
does exactly that. I still come close to tears every time
I hear it. The songwriter, Will Oldham, supports beautifully
on vocals. This song is so powerful to me that it can explain
itself best. Listen to it alone and sober. Itís reassuring
to know that someone else understands. Some complicated feelings
are addressed simply in its slow, rising, hopeful message.
A lot of anticipation accompanied Nick Caveís "Mercy Seat."
And perhaps because of the previous track, it didnít hold
as much as I had hoped. While still poignant and well arranged,
it isnít as exciting or gratifying as it should have been.
The simple guitar leads in nicely, but then sinks into the
back. Harmonica would have been nice. The rolling piano and
midi harpsichord provide a full score more Hollywood than
blues, while still weird and interesting.
Current country rebel David Alan Coe is represented by "Will
You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)." A lovely love song
testing romantic loyalties, it was last seen with Tanya Tucker.
Johnny makes it sound like an ancient folk tune. An unusually
sensitive thought from Coe, whose favorite lyric is "David
Alan Coe." This song will be the next "Wedding Song." That
or emergency rooms will see an increase in granite-related
injuries. From stone to "Field of Diamonds." On this family
number, Johnny sings bass, June Carter sings tenor, and little
Sheryl Crow joins right in there. Donít worry, though, Sheryl
sings so sweetly that you wonít even know that itís her. The
Cashís must have learnt her a thing or two about warmth and
timbre. Juneís familiar support is a welcome comfort. And
for all the times she has saved Johnnyís life, we owe her
a lifetime of thanks.
While he has been around for eons, Johnny wants us to know
there was love fulfilled and unrequited "Before My Time."
A gentle foray into nostalgia that shows his writing has not
suffered. I wonder how long these songs have been rattling
around. "Country Trash" is prime. You can read anything you
want into this light-hearted jaunt. A metaphor for lifeís
journey and social placement, or just take it for face value.
Either way, it taps your toe for you. Jump in where you can
and hang on.
Sheryl Crow trades in her paper-thin vocals to add rich,
mournful accordion to "Mary Of The Wild Moor," as well as
"Wayfaring Stranger," while nice fiddle work adds sorrow
to the tragedy of both ballads. No matter how earnestly Johnny
lays down the classic Irish story, poor Mary is still dead
at the end. Itís surprising that he hasnít put out these classics
before now. Obviously both have been in his repertoire
for decades. Old friend Merle Haggard has a great time with
his buddy on "Iím Leaving Now." They banter with the naturalness
of an Upstart Pipsqueak exchange. Merle actually sings pretty
and plays perfectly. All the guests here do some of their
finest work without outshining Johnny.
No drums were beaten during the recording of this album,
and all guitars are acoustic, true to folk style. Johnnyís
son-in-law Marty Stuart plays some of the guitars, but the
liner notes never give credit where it is due. The uninitiated
to Johnny Cash (if there is such a thing) should start with
some of his earlier works. For those of us accustomed to his
range and roots, this is like listening to your grandpa. He
exhibits an endearing frailty that adds to some of the sorrow
expressed in the songs. And as Cybil Shephard requires cheesecloth
draped over the camera lens, I urge Rick Rubin to use effects
on Johnnyís vocals. A small reverb to wet the cracks in an
otherwise masterful throat. Beyond this overlookable complaint,
Solitary Man is an incredible piece of history. One
that will be played in regular rotation in my household until
it drives someone batty. So, to my own June Carter I urge
you, understand your man.
- I Wonít Back Down
- Solitary Man
- That Lucky Old Sun
- I See A Darkness
- Mercy Seat
- Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)
- Field Of Diamonds
- Before My Time
- Country Trash
- Mary Of The Wild Moor
- Iím Leaving Now
- Wayfaring Stranger