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Johnny Cash

Rockabilly Blues – 1999 (Koch)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

This re-issue - (originally released in 1980) - has little to do with the thrift-shop stylings of the current rockabilly revival. Rather, it's an uncommonly strong set of material loosely celebrating Big John's Sun-era roots.

Historically, "Rockabilly Blues" falls amid one of Cash's commercially fallow periods. It's one of several overlooked LPs he cut between the success of "One Piece At A Time" in 1976, and the first "Highwaymen" album almost a decade later. With record company support waning, he enlisted the help of some young progeny - Marty Stuart, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds among others - are all aboard. A feeling of nothing-to-lose pervades, and the result is a delight. The uptempo stuff is all Brawny Johnny - the trademark gruff vocals, backed by wailing harmonica, and dirty piano fills. "Rockabilly Blues (Texas 1955)" swings with authority as does his laundry list of why he needs his "W-O-M-A-N." "Cold Lonesome Morning" is a worthy addition to Cash's stockpile of fatalism: "One of these cold lonesome mornings/you're going to kill me," he sings. "And I'm going to lay there/and I'm going to die."

Among such fevered offerings are some quieter keepers: "The Last Time," a Tex-Mex flavored ballad from the pen of Kris Kristofferson, and "It Ain't Nothing New, Babe," a haunting Texas blues of the sort that only Billy Joe Shaver can write. And Cash was born to sing Lowe's "Without Love," a minor pop hit for his then-son-in law that lends itself beautifully to his world-weary demeanor.

Alongside the much more somber "Johnny 99," from roughly the same time period, this is a most welcome CD re-issue.