We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash (Legacy, NR)

dvd walk-the-lineAn all-star crew of musicians throw Cash the kind of party you know he would have appreciated.

 

Johnny Cash would have turned 80 this year. Although he went to his reward in 2003, an all-star crew of musicians turned out in Austin on April 20, 2012 to throw Cash the kind of party you know he would have appreciated—that is, a cross-generational concert featuring some of Cash’s biggest hits, performed by two of his contemporaries (Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson) and a top crew of younger performers, including Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon, and Cash’s godson), Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie), the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sheryl Crow, Rhett Miller, Lucinda Williams, and Shelby Lynne.

The concert is now available on a DVD/CD set released by Legacy Recordings. The camerawork and editing for the concert DVD are both straightforward, keeping the focus on the music, while also including enough shots of the audience—and of the introductions by Matthew McConaughey—to create the mood of being at a live concert, even if you’re watching in your living room.

The young performers do most of the heavy lifting in this concert, and no one tries to do a Johnny Cash imitation. Instead, each musician puts his or her own stamp on the music. No doubt that will offend some Cash purists, but I consider it a tribute to the songs that they can work well in so many different interpretations. Most of Cash’s big hits are featured, including “Folsom Prison Blues” (Brandi Carlile), “Why Me Lord” (Shelby Lynne), “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Pat Monahan), “Cocaine Blues” (Shooter Jennings and Amy Nelson), “Long Black Veil” (Iron & Wine), and “I Walk the Line” (everyone).

Willie Nelson gives a creditable performance on “If I Were a Carpenter” (with Sheryl Crowe) and “Highwayman” (with Kris Kristofferson, Shooter Jennings, and Jamey Johnson), while Kristofferson struggles a bit more on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (with Jamey Johnson). The performance of the evening, however, belongs to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who burn up the stage with their rendition of “Jackson.” A crack house band of Don Was (bass), Kenny Aronoff (drums), Ian McLagen (piano), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), and Buddy Miller (guitar) makes everyone sound better, while also maintaining a sense of continuity across the performances.

Four extras are included on the DVD: a rehearsal performance of Willie Nelson singing “I Still Miss Someone”; Matthew McConaughey singing “The Man Comes Around”; a making-of featurette about the concert; and another featurette in which the performers discuss what Cash and his music means to them. The companion CD includes the same performances as the DVD. | Sarah Boslaugh

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