Under-Rated and Overlooked #2- Johnny Cash: Blood, Sweat and Tears

November 29, 2008


Casual fans and many music critics consider Johnny Cash to have had three significant periods of output during his career. First of all, his early rockabilly hits for Sun records. During this period he produced the bulk of his catalogue hits- – “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Get Rhythm,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” etc. After this initial Sun and immediate-post Sun period most think it isn’t until 1968’s comeback album “Live at Folsom Prison,” and its sequel “Live at San Quentin,” that Cash produced anything significant. Then they skip over his catalogue until they get to his third and final act, which consists of his collaborations with producer Rick Rubin, the American Recordings albums volume 1-4 and now posthumously continuing.
Well, those three acts are Cash’s big three creative phrases. But over the years and during the in-between phases Cash continued to make commendable records.

One such buried treasure is “Blood, Sweat and Tears” which was originally released in 1963 , during his post Sun and pre Folsom era. “Blood, Sweat and Tears’ is one of the best cohesive albums Cash recorded yet it contains no real “hits” of his. It’s a singular folk country art album. His version of the standard and oft-covered and reinterpreted “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” sprawls across 8 and a half minutes, pretty unheard of for popular music during that time. It’s a story-telling song, complete with echoes and sound effects, voice acting and background vocals and it’s perfect. “Busted” is as close to a hit as we have here, and if you’ve ever bought any of the extensive anthologies and compilations over the years you’ve likely heard it. It’s depression era blues, lamenting on the unpaid and un-payable bills, sick kids and suffering hopes, which sadly sounds eerily prescient again these days. Other folk standards and characters arrive on the album, “Casey Jones” most notably. “Roughneck” has Cash swaggering that he “learned to cuss when I was 2.” “Another Man Done Gone,” is a scary and vivid recounting of a man being hung. The Carter Family lend the backup vocals and aid in the instruments, so we get a nice, rounded musical album that’s not just a one man show–though we all know Cash can carry a one-man show when he wants to. His voice is still nice and strong in this era. Cash’s voice is one of the best 20th century instruments. When he was young it boomed and echoed like the voice of God or at least a founding father. When he was old it sounded frail yet faithful, driven and reflective of America’s failures and successes.

If you’re looking for a bit of Cash’s work that digs deeper than the compilation discs or the late in life collaborations, go for this one. You could do much worse than this perfect time capsule of blues, folk and roots music that still sounds relevant today.


One Response to “Under-Rated and Overlooked #2- Johnny Cash: Blood, Sweat and Tears”

  1. […] Billy Joel- The Stranger (posted on Nov. 21st, 2008) 2)    Johnny Cash – Blood, Sweat and Tears ( posted on Nov. 29th, 2008) 3)    Cee Lo – Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (posted on Dec. 6, […]

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