Of all the CD's I have heard in the two months since the Great Rockin' 50's Fest at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I have chosen to write about two: "Dressed In Black, a Tribute to Johnny Cash" and "Rockabilly Rumble", a 24-song compilation featuring several bands from a U.S. and an English label.
This is the first time I have ever reviewed a tribute album or CD. Since I have been reviewing records and CD's since Dion released "Runaround Sue", I guess that is a major statement.
It's not that I haven't thought about it before: I really thought I was going to do it almost a year ago when "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records" was released, and at about the same time, I came even closer to reviewing "Caught In The Webb - A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce".
I reckon that my previous struggles about reviewing a tribute album involved the age old dilemma of justifying a tribute album in the first place: if the artist is/was so great as to deserve a tribute album, why listen to other people's "covers" when the original artist is outstanding in the first place?
"DRESSED IN BLACK"And who personifies this dilemma more than Johnny Cash, who is espoused by rockabillies, rock and rollers, country musicians, and who has actually classified himself as a "folk" singer. As Hank III, who is the first artist to appear on the "Dressed In Black" CD, is quoted as saying, "Johnny Cash out rocks, out countrys, out folks, out does everyone else. He is the real shit". Why have I finally made this decision?
The folks at Dualtone Records in Nashville have really done an outstanding job of rounding up a wide spectrum of contemporary artists to cover 18 classic Johnny Cash songs, most of which are from the early part of Johnny's career. The artists themselves who appear on this CD, although different in many ways, practically all come under the categorization of "alt-country, rockabilly, Americana, roots", or some type of non-establishment, performers. Actually, over half of the performers on this CD have appeared in prior interviews, articles and reviews written by me for this Rockabilly Hall of Fame web site.
As a matter of fact, the roster of talent performing Johnny Cash's songs on this CD turned my head immediately: Hank III, Robbie Fulks (can't help but love this guy), Rodney Crowell (a great songwriter in his own right and former son-in-law of Johnny Cash), Raul Malo (lead singer and songwriter for The Mavericks), Chuck Mead (now leader-by-default of BR549), Reverend Horton Heat (the neo-rockabilly group leader), Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (Austin-based Robison, along with his brother Charlie, is a noted singer/songwriter, and Kelly Willis has benefited from Bruce's songwriting ), Billy Burnette (son of rockabilly and rock & roll legend Dorsey Burnette), Redd Volkaert (extraordinary picker who has been featured for the past few years as one of Merle Haggard's "Strangers," and who is currently touring on his own), Rosie Flores (country and rockabilly performer), James Intveld (country and rockabilly singer/songwriter, and actor), Earl Poole Ball (honky-tonk performer whose varied repertoire defies classification), Damon Bramblett (another up-and-coming Austin singer/songwriter), Dale Watson (a big favorite of mine to whom I refer as the "Second Coming of Haggard"), Kenny Vaughan (contemporary singer/guitarist about whom I know little), Eddie Angel (rockabilly guitarist and singer whose bands include The Planet Rockers and Los Straitjackets, and who is co-owner of Spinout Records), Mandy Barnett (more about her later), and Chris Knight (Kentucky singer/songwriter).
In essence, the beautiful thing about this CD is that a great artist/singer/poet, Johnny Cash, is being given a tribute by some of the most relevant, talented and interesting stylists in all the country/roots/Americana/rockabilly genres.
I already own more than one Johnny Cash tribute CD, the most recent being 1999's "Cash On Delivery - An Alternative Country Tribute to Johnny Cash". This CD goes a long way in defining "alternative country", including the DiMaggio Brothers and Wayne Kramer, but I am not trying to slam this or any other previous tribute album to Johnny Cash: it's just that this one is distinctively fascinating enough to merit being the first compilation I have reviewed.
When I mentioned the other two tribute CD's I almost reviewed, a thought immediately struck me: Mandy Barnett, the young country singer who does a duet with Chuck Mead of "Jackson" on the "Dressed In Black" CD, is the only artist to appear on all three tribute CD's I have mentioned: "Good Rockin' Tonight, The Legacy of Sun Records", "Caught In the Webb, a Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce", and "Dressed In Black, a Tribute to Johnny Cash". If I were going into the business of recording and performing country music today, I would sure want to hire her agent!
This is the type of CD that, when friends who are fans of the alt-country/roots/rockabilly scene gather to socialize, it would be interesting to see everyone name their favorite performances on this 18-track CD: I believe there will be quite a divergence of opinions, but that is just part of the fun of this CD! What are mine? Glad you asked! Robbie Fulks' "Cry, Cry, Cry", Redd Volkaert's "Luther Played the Boogie", James Intveld's "Folsom Prison Blues", Dale Watson's "I Walk the Line", and Eddie Angel's "Straight A's In Love". I liked the others too!
CD Release Party Photos Here
"THE ROCKABILLY RUMBLE"I had the 24-track CD compilation, "Rockabilly Rumble", for three months before writing this review. I like this CD a lot, and I wish I had reviewed it earlier, but little things like finishing my Viva Las Vegas V Review and attending, and then writing my longest article ever on the Green Bay Rockin' 50's Fest, caused me to postpone my review until this time.
"Rockabilly Rumble" is a showcase for two record labels, Golly GeeRecords - (www.gollygeerecords.com) a U.S. label based in Delaware, although I believe its owner, Mel Spinella, also has offices in southern California, and Raucous Records (www.raucousmusic.com) an English-based label that features rockabilly, neo-rockabilly and psychobilly groups including Wild Bob Burgos & The House Rockers, The Polecats, The Frantic Flintstones and the Meteors. The purpose of this jointly produced CD is, apparently, to give rockabilly listeners a taste of the rockabilly bands these labels would like to showcase.
When I listened for the first time to "Rockabilly Rumble", I did not pay attention to which group belonged to which label: I was doing an hour workout in my gym, so my notes did not reflect any bias towards either label.
I do like compilations because in them you are exposed to several different groups, styles, sounds, and motifs, and this CD certainly sets a good example of this. I did particularly enjoy two songs each I heard from The Spinouts and The Rebel Rockers, and I would buy these groups' CD's sight-unseen. I also enjoyed Peter & The Wolves' "The Rock Īn' Roll Boogie" - excellent tempo, good song. I also found myself moving to The Long Island Hornets' "Misunderstood" as well as the Rebel Rockers' "Red T Bird" from their self-titled album.
The Jive Romeros' song "Soda Shop Rock" was very Comet-like, and The Slingshots' "Steamhammer Jones" was a good story song. "Mean Little Mama", another Spinout song, had just about everything: good vocals, guitar, bass, and backbeat. "Ace of Spades" by Union Avenue was obviously inspired by Johnny Cash, and The Accelerators' "Blackberry Boogie" is the kind of song that will get all the dancers up on the floor. "51 Chevy", another Ralph Rebel tune, was another song just made for good dancers, and this little number was augmented by good saxophone playing and a darn good guitar solo.
This CD certainly provided an array of different types of rockabilly sounds. An example of this is the Tennessee Trio's "Track Down Baby", another song from a self-titled album that can be classified as excellent "hillbilly bop". Ralph Rebel's "Rockabilly Vampire" from their self-titled album, is more on the "neo-rockabilly" side, although the overall sound should still appeal to rockabilly purists. The Dagmars (I like that name) give "Honky-Tonkin'" a more rock and roll arrangement than Hank Williams' original, while Ralph Rebel checks in with a pretty faithful arrangement of Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser", although Ralph Rebel's version is a little bit more up-tempo. The 24th and final cut on the CD is "Red Hot and Real Gone" by The Spinouts, who batted one thousand in their two cuts on this CD.
If you are looking for a lot of rockabilly, with different styles and by groups from around the world, you don't want to miss this CD. The last I heard, eBay was offering this CD at a terrific price, although amazon.com's price wasn't too bad either. - Barry Kleim, email@example.com