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June Carter Cash

Press On – 1999 (Risk)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by June Carter Cash

June Carter Cash was born with one of the greatest names in country music,and she married into the other one, which seemingly preordained her to alter the course of country music in ways both obvious and sublime. As a member of the legendary Carter Family, she was a part of a genetic musical collective that literally shaped the direction of country music in its earliest incarnation. As the wife of rockabilly/country legend Johnny Cash, she left an indelible stamp on the genre by keeping her hellbound husband's self-destructive appetites under control and keeping him alive to record some of the greatest records in country music history.

After 30 years of standing by her man, it's June Carter Cash's turn to takea spin in the spotlight. Her first album in literally decades is less a solo album than it is an odd amalgam of family and friends with Cash at the helm. As a matter of fact, this is less a true album and more a sonic scrapbook, recorded completely acoustically in a makeshift studio in a log cabin on Cash's Tennessee property, with stories and recording directions left in for quirky good measure.

Guests include her ex-son-in-laws, Marty Stuart and RodneyCrowell, the inimitable Norman Blake, and the Man in Black himself, whotells a story and duets with June on the spiritual "Far Side Banks of Jordan." The material varies between classic (A.P. Carter's "Diamonds in the Rough" "Meeting in the Air" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken") and contemporary (a recollection of bygone days in "I Used to Be Somebody" and "Gatsby's Restaurant").

One of the most transcendent moments comes when Carter Cash strums out an ethereal rhythm on autoharp accompanying Blake's guitar on a stripped down version of her most famous composition, the still astonishing "Ring of Fire.""Press On" sports the kind of flaws that would sink a lesser artist (the extemporaneous "Tiffany Anastasia Lowe," for instance), but the quality that wins the day for Carter Cash is her raw musical intuition, shining sincerity, and unshakable faith. "Press On" is most assuredly a diamond in the rough.