The Johnny Cash Christmas Specials, 1978 and 1979 (Shout! Factory, NR)

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dvd_johnny-cash.jpgThe recent release by Shout! Factory of the Johnny Cash Christmas Specials for 1978 and 1979 is a welcome addition to the growing number of variety shows available on DVD.

 

 

 

If you're much older than 35 and grew up in the United States, you probably remember a time when variety shows were a television staple; for a period in the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that every popular singer, from Glen Campbell to Tony Orlando & Dawn, was hosting his or her own show. In their day, these shows gave everyone with access to a television set a chance to see some of the most popular stars of the day perform; today, recordings of those shows give us a chance to see those stars when they were at the top of their form.

The recent release by Shout! Factory of the Johnny Cash Christmas Specials for 1978 and 1979 is a welcome addition to the growing number of variety shows available on DVD. Each show is like a little time capsule of the era: You can watch stars like Cash and Anne Murray in their prime while sending up little prayers that feathered hair will not come back into fashion.

Both shows are built around the same formula: songs performed by Cash plus several musical guest stars, comedy interludes by a guest artist, and appearances by members of the Cash family. Oddly enough, there's not a lot of Christmas music on either album, which may be a benefit since you can watch them any time of year without feeling out of season.

The 1979 disk, taped in Nashville, is the stronger of the two. Anne Murray ("You Needed Me," "Christmas Wishes"), Tom. T. Hall ("That's Why You Have to Be You, "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine" and "Christmas Is"), and June Carter Cash ("Back Up and Push") are the musical guests, and Andy Kaufman does several skits in his Latka Gravas character as well as performing an uncanny Elvis Presley imitation ("That's When Your Heartaches Begin"). Cash's songs include "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth," plus a recitation of "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver" by Edna St. Vincent Millay (dedicated to his mother, who was in the audience). He also performed "Five Feet High and Rising" intercut with interviews from his father, brother and neighbors recalling a flood which overwhelmed the Cash family home in Dyess, Ark.

Guest stars on the 1978 special, taped in Los Angeles, include Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge and June Carter Cash, as well as Carter and Cash's six daughters, who perform with Johnny on the closing song, "Silent Night." Steve Martin provides several comic skits but never plays his banjo, despite numerous threats to do so. Other songs on this show include "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "Christmas Time's a Coming," "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends," and "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Kristofferson should get a special medal for bravery for his willingness to trade verses with both Johnny Cash and Rita Coolidge, demonstrating once and for all that as a singer he was a pretty good songwriter.

Further information about the Johnny Cash Christmas Special DVDs is available from the company website http://www.shoutfactory.com/ or by calling 866-604-0562. | Sarah Boslaugh

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