Much like Forrest Gump's mama's famous outlook on life, you never really know what you're gonna get with tribute albums and concerts, especially those to larger-than-life artists like Johnny Cash. No matter how well-intentioned the artists paying tribute are, it can be a real challenge to strike a balance between straight note-for-note covers and radical departures from the original source materials. Luckily, the new tribute CD and DVD from Legacy Recordings seems to have it on the right formula, which includes tributes to many of Cash's biggest hits while also paying homage to the artists and songs that influenced him.
Recorded on April 20, 2012 at the Moody Theater in Austin, this star-studded tribute concert was organized to kick off Cash's 80th birthday celebration. The term "star" is appropriate here because a quick scan of the contributing artists reveals musical luminaries like Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson and Lucinda Williams, but this set is really propelled by some lesser-known but no less talented contributors.
Singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile shows her country roots on a spirited rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, Amy Lee, the vocalist for the rock band Evanescence, impresses by keeping it simple on tender version of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Iron & Wine, the stage name of singer/songwriter Samuel Beam, provides a breezy and cool Long Black Veil and the Carolina Chocolate Drops steal the show by doing their unique acoustic hoedown thing on the Johnny and June classic Jackson. Another highlight is Andy Grammer's take on Get Rhythm, which gets a little sonic touch-up courtesy of some well-placed beatbox work.
The aforementioned "stars" also shine during their contributions. Williams finds some twangy middle ground between Cash and Nine Inch Nails on her version of Hurt, Crow and Nelson duet it up on If I Were A Carpenter and Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings join Nelson and Kristofferson to reunite The Highwaymen for their signature eponymous tune.
Kudos to musical director Don Was for assembling a varied, interesting and entertaining tribute befitting the music and legacy of Johnny Cash.