Bob Wootton & Six Mile Grove: Guaranteed Cash
If Bob Wootton didn’t start out in life sounding like Johnny Cash, then thirty years spent playing lead guitar for the big man certainly left their mark. The guitar sound is instantly recognisable, of course, but the voice is so remarkably close to that of the man in black that you feel that Johnny could have taken a few nights off every now and then and the folks would have been perfectly happy to hear Bob Wootton sing the songs.
When Johnny Cash retired from performance in 1998, Bob Wootton called it a day as well and took a job driving tour buses. A few years later, however, he ran into Brandon Sampson of Six Mile Grove who persuaded Bob to play a Cash tribute concert, with Six Mile Grove as his backing band. That went well, more gigs in the same vein followed, and now here we are with Guaranteed Cash, the best Johnny Cash tribute album there’s ever likely to be. Given the enduring popularity of Johnny Cash’s work (every Americana act seems to fit Folsom Prison Blues into their repertoire), Guaranteed Cash should be pushing on an open door and ensure a host of invitations for these guys when they come over to the UK later on this year.
There are eleven songs on this album, either Cash originals or tunes strongly associated with him and there’s a nice balance of slightly less familiar material alongside the near-inevitable Folsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire. The wonderful thing about Bob Wootton’s vocals is that although he has a baritone growl that is really similar to Johnny Cash’s voice, he’s not actually trying to be Johnny Cash. His style is just a notch more laid back and seems quite effortless, yet he’s doing more than just mouthing the long-familiar words. The songs mean a lot to him, and in his own understated, almost laconic, way, you can really hear that. The version of Orange Blossom Special that closes the album is enormous fun; it’s true to the era the song comes from and there’s some great wheezing harmonica from Brandon Sampson as Bob’s guitar chugs the train down the line.
There’s quite a few favourites of mine here, especially I Still Miss Someone, one of those songs where Johnny Cash sounds like he was in a Willie Nelson frame of mind when he wrote it. Every track here is really well done – nothing fancy in the production at all, just that wonderful guitar sound with the band keeping things rolling at a smart pace (and mercifully none of the dodgy backing singers that seemed to plague Johnny Cash in the 60s). Brandon’s bandmates make an excellent job of being perfect sidemen, doing their job without drawing too much attention to themselves, an exercise in modesty for a band with a fine back catalogue and a sixth album due this spring. This album is a real pleasure, succeeding in giving fresh life to some wonderful and well-loved old songs; with Bob Wootton at the centre of things it also has a resonance that will never be matched.