I talked on the phone with a man named John Carter Cash yesterday. Consider, for a moment, what it would be like to be John Carter Cash. On the up side, one would have the genetic makeup, the social contacts, and probably the financial wherewithal to make a pretty fair splash in the music world. On the down side, one would have to live with continual comparisons to one’s dad and mom, and when one’s dad and mom are Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and grandma was a woman named Maybelle, it’s easy to see how it might get tiresome, if not downright impossible to live up to the heritage.
To his credit, John Carter Cash seems comfortable in his own skin. He’s written and recorded his own music, but he’s best known as a music producer and as the keeper of the Cash/Carter family legacy. The immediate context of our conversation was a tribute album that John has just produced to highlight his mom’s music. Called Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash, and set for release in mid-June (naturally), it features 12 songs that June wrote and/or made famous, sung by some pretty big names in country music and rock ‘n roll who knew her and loved her. Anchored in love is right, and you can hear it in every note. Elvis Costello, one of the rock ‘n rollers, includes an autoharp on his cover of June’s “Ring of Fire” because that’s the way The Carter Family would have played it. The Peasall Sisters, who were little girls in O Brother Where Art Thou? last time I checked, are just about grown up, and now sound remarkably like Anita and Helen and June must have sounded back when they played the Grand Ole Opry in the early ‘50s. Willie Nelson is here, and Sheryl Crow, two Billy’s (Joe Shaver and Bob Thornton), and venerable country legends like Ralph Stanley and Loretta Lynn. Emmylou Harris, who appears on 38% of all music recorded in the past thirty-five years, is here as well.
The cynical part of me wants to say that because Walk the Line was such a phenomenal hit, and because Johnny sold some five million albums from the grave in 2006, there’s a great opportunity here to cash in on some more financial wherewithal. But you know what? I don’t believe that’s the motivation. Maybe I heard the scripted “I did it for God and family” speech yesterday. But it sure didn’t sound like it. It sounded to me like John Carter Cash is a man who records a tribute album to his mom because he wants to honor her. He seemed like a really great guy. He definitely had a great Tennessee accent. And I’m willing to bet that he loved, and still loves, his imperfect, gracious and gifted parents.