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Tommy Cash: Six White Horses

Right now, it doesn't look like Johnny Cash will ever go away, and that's the way it should be. His latest/posthumous record, American V: A Hundred Highways, has been a huge hit, and for good reason: the songs are a mix of originals and covers, but that voice makes each one into a detailed, personal experience we all can drink and weep and pray our way through.

Part of the Cash voice, of course, is, literally, his voice - that amazing baritone that many of us have tried and failed to imitate when we played the records and imagined ourselves performing from the stage of our own Folsom Prisons. Frankly, it doesn't seem that hard to sing like Johnny Cash, until you find out you can't do it. And that's because the most essential part of his voice is really the way it's used: not only is his baritone a lot deeper and cooler than ours, it's a lot wiser, too.

It's also deeper, cooler, and wiser than his brother Tommy Cash's.

tommy_cash.jpg Needless to say, Tommy is not the brother whose tragic death was a central focus of the plot of Walk the Line - this is the brother whose mere existence was cut out of the film altogether. Now, if it seems a little unfair to compare Tommy Cash to his brilliant older brother, it's even more unfair to excise him out of his older brother's life completely. More to the point, consider that Tommy made a lot of his own records, and that he regularly indulged in a habit of covering songs his brother had already made legendary, including, for God's sake, "Ring of Fire." That's not on Six White Horses, but "Long Black Veil" is, and when sung by Tommy Cash, the veil in question just isn't as long or as black as it was when Johnny told the tale.

In truth, though, Tommy doesn't sound like a Johnny replica - he sounds a whole lot more like Johnny's friend, the great, may-he-also-rest-in-peace-with-his-records-on-my-turntable Waylon Jennings. And, even more than covering his famous brother's songs, Tommy has a thing for covering songs by his famous brother's famous protègè, Merle Haggard, who was inspired by seeing Johnny perform at San Quentin Prison while he, Haggard, was serving time there for robbery.

On Six White Horses Tommy offers his own run-through of one of Haggard's most regarded - and ridiculed - songs, "Okie from Muskogee"; he seems to declare that they don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee with particular earnestness. I was tempted to believe that Tommy chose the song for its tune rather than its politics, but his own very bitter and very bizarre "So You're Tired of America" snuffed out that idea. It starts off as a rollicking country song, then stops suddenly for Tommy's free-flowing, Southern raps about what's wrong with 1970 America: Those damn long-hairs protesting the war! It's so awful on so many levels that it's absolutely fascinating . . . especially considering that, just a few months later, Johnny Cash released "Man in Black," which explains his solidarity for the poor, the imprisoned and the hungry, and expresses dismay over wars that each week kill "a hundred fine young men."

Still, Tommy gets it mostly right here. He had a No. 1 country single with the outstanding title track, a eulogy for the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. (and by the way, it's a different song from the Waylon Jennings number with the same name). He romps through a spirited version of Carl Perkins' "Rise and Shine." And his love for everything he's doing - singing his favorite country songs while chastising us for our lack of patriotism and faith - makes this a fine time.

If Tommy Cash doesn't have quite the presence of his brother, and little of the wisdom, he at least has a voice we can rumble along with.


Posted on September 10, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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