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June Carter Cash presses on

By Robert Wooldridge, May 1999

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Cash is pleased with how the album turned out. "It's just back to the basics. There's nothing slick about this album. It's just 'Let's have fun, and if we miss it don't worry. Just stop, and swallow when you have to, and we'll just press on. We'll just go ahead and do it, and if it's not right then let (producer) John Carter worry about it."

The album begins and ends with two of Cash's favorite Carter Family tunes. The title comes from a line in the opening track "Diamond in the Rough" using the expression "press on," which Cash says describes as her philosophy of life. "Let's just get it together, and continue with whatever we're doing. It (press on) works in a lot of instances. I've used it all my life, from the time I was just a little bitty girl and heard my mother sing it."

Husband Johnny Cash joins June for a stirring rendition of "Far Side Banks of Jordan." "I love that song. It's my favorite song to sing with John. We never do a concert without doing that song."

One of the more personal songs on the album is "I Used To Be Somebody," inwhich Cash tells of her relationships with Elvis Presley and James Dean in the fifties. "You can listen to this album, and you know me a little better because there's parts of my life on this album."It was a live performance of "I Used To Be Somebody" that started the process of getting "Press On" made. Rock promoter Vicky Hamilton, a friend of producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash's "American Recording" and "Unchained"), heard the song performed at a show in Los Angeles during the "Unchained" tour. It was Hamilton that set up the deal with Risk Records to release "Press On."

"They're just a vivacious, young bunch of really on the ball people," Cash says of the staff of Risk Records, a young label with Cash as the only country artist. "I am so thankful that I got this little record company - they really cared about this album. They really seemed to love it."

Though much of her time of late has been devoted to helping with Johnny Cash's recovery from illness, his improvement allowed June to go forth with the album. "He's feeling real good," she reports. "After we had Thanksgiving he said, 'Okay, now I feel better, and it's time you go ahead, and do that album you put off for three years.'"

In fact, Johnny Cash was feeling well enough to appear at an all-star tribute to him in New York in April. "That's the first time John has worked in 19 months. At first he wasn't going to work it, but then he decided to. He's feeling much better now, even since he did it." So much better, in fact, that Cash reports that her husband plans to get together with Rubin for some recording sessions.

Though no extended tour is planned, Cash has been booked to perform at the Troubador in L.A. and the Bottom Line in New York. "I asked John, I said, 'I followed you around all these years and been a part of everything you've done. Are you going to follow me around?' He said, 'Oh, yeah.' So if he feels up to it he'll be with me in L.A. and in New York."

"Press On" is not likely to attract much mainstream country radio airplay, but Americana radio has embraced it. "I'm not sure where I actually belong," Cash says. "The people who are on a roll today - it's a different style of country music. But the thing that John and I do, there's always a big audience. We're a couple of the lucky ones."

The Cash's have for some time enjoyed great popularity with younger fans of alternative country. Now it appears that June's popularity extends to alternative rock, as she has been asked to perform on the upcoming Lillith Tour. "I'm going to sing with those girls this year. If that puts me in that category, I'll stay in there for a while. It doesn't matter. I've been put in a lot of places, different categories. I will be thrilled to sing in that category."

But she adds jokingly, "I'm not going anywhere unless John feels like going and carrying my autoharp."

The initial response to "Press On" has delighted Cash. She has appearances booked with David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. "It's made me feel so good. Just to think that all these years have gone by and I have never talked to so many people as I have talked to. It's unbelievable."

As for future plans, Cash, 70 in June, says that first "I'm going to catch my breath from this CD and see what happens with it. Then John and I will probably go back down to Jamaica and just sit there and look at the Caribbean."

But a sequel is not ruled out. "I had some more I wanted to put on there, but we had 13 and they made me stop singing," Cash jokes. "If people continue to be excited, I'll do another one maybe."

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