Field Reportings from Issue #69
JOHN CARTER CASH SALUTES JUNE: He’s had to come to terms with so many family losses in a row, and, perhaps inevitably, continuing questions about parents Johnny and June and a broader family who are global legends, that John Carter Cash now calls it simply “part of my nature to carry on the family music, heritage and tradition.” He celebrates the varied music and often tumultuous life of his late mother in particular with similarly-titled book and CD projects due out on June 5.
Anchored In Love: A Tribute To June Carter Cash (Dualtone), produced by John, revisits the music June made from her childhood with the original Carter Family through her years as comedienne, singer and songwriter, and on through what remains her most-celebrated role as Johnny Cash’s life and musical partner.
Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn will be heard on the “Jackson” turn they’ve done so well live, Patty Loveless and Kris Kristofferson offer “Far Side Banks Of Jordan” (which John says “exemplifies who my mother and father were — their love for each other, and their strength”); Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow sing “If I Were A Carpenter; and there are touching turns by Ralph Stanley ( “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”) and Loretta Lynn (“Wildwood Flower”).
“She’s the closest thing living to my mother that’s not blood kin” John Carter says of Loretta. “When I worked with her in the studio on that song, it was just like being back in the studio with my Mom — the energies, the southern style and grace, their will and strength.”
The album will also feature Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Billy Joe Shaver, Brad Paisley, Grey DeLisle, and Billy Bob Thornton with the Peasall Sisters.
The more startling of John’s new projects, however, is his book, Anchored In Love: The Life And Legacy Of June Carter Cash (Thomas Nelson). It’s a daringly frank, personal and sometimes harrowing memoir of his mother’s life, the Cash family’s, and his own, with equally vivid portrayals of the family’s talents, addictions and painful failings, and their seemingly unstoppable spiritual strength in the face of these challenges.
“It was a pretty heavy undertaking,” John Carter says. “My parents both lived very open lives…but they had their privacies, and they had a vision of what they stood for. They wanted to present themselves as exactly what they were — fallible humans, not perfect — and were OK with that. That was part of what they related as their faith: ‘We’re human, but we get back up, and we keep going.’ In writing the book, it was so important to me that I stay true to that; it’s hard to show the light without showing the pain…to show the contrasts and reality of their lives.”
The book shows a Johnny Cash — and eventually, a June Carter Cash as well — who’d suffered enough bouts of pill-popping and its after-effects that in some ways they were no longer, and not so simply, the same people or parents they had once been. And yet there was still, always, the spirit and the music.
John sees strong relations between the Anchored In Love tribute album and his book. “Both show elements of her creativity, of my mom’s family tradition, where she came from, and the importance of the Carter Family music to her throughout her whole life,” he says. “The book talks about her humor, her jokes, her life — and also about her love for my father, their love for each other, and their strength. So there are quite a few duets on the CD.”
He has no expectation that this memoir will, or could, nail just who John and June Carter Cash — “partly truth, partly fiction,” as Kristofferson’s famed phrase goes — really were. “The mystery is still there. I never entirely understood who exactly they were, and I don’t believe the reader will either — in 1,000 words, or 56,000,” John Carter says. “And I’m fine with that. I believe I do have a great understanding of who my parents were — but part of that understanding is that I don’t get it!”
PROPHETEERING: It was a busy South By Southwest this year for CHUCK PROPHET, who played guitar with KELLY WILLIS for a couple of showcases as well as sitting in with the Silos and Alejandro Escovedo at various gigs around Austin. Prophet recently produced Willis’ new disc Translated From Love, which is due out June 26 on Rykodisc. Prophet reported to ND via e-mail that he’s also been writing songs with Escovedo for an album slated to be produced by Glyn Johns; “you might call it a concept record or a musical or I don’t know. We’ll see.” Prophet also recently signed a deal with San Francisco-based Chronicle Books for his literary debut, Shoulda Stayed In School: Road Diaries From The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trenches, scheduled for a summer 2008 release. And his fledgling record label, Belle Sound, marked its first release April 17 with San Francisco songwriter Sonny Smith’s Fruitvale. “I wouldn’t wish running a label on my worst enemy,” Prophet said in a press release. “Sonny is so good I had no choice.” As for his own musical endeavors, Prophet has been working on a new record, though he acknowledges getting sidetracked in the studio recently by a brainstorm to re-interpret Waylon Jennings’ classic 1975 album Dreaming My Dreams in its entirety. No word on when or where that might surface, but don’t look for it on New West, as Prophet has parted ways with the label.
A TRIP TO TRINITY: Back in 1987, when Cowboy Junkies assembled in Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity to record their sophomore album, the makeshift studio contained the musicians, their instruments, a single microphone and…not much else. When the band returned to the church this past November to mark the 20th anniversary of their seminal The Trinity Session album, the circumstances were altered, to say the least.
Instead of the single-mike ambient recording technique employed to such novel effect on that album, this time they were wired to capture the music in surround sound. A film crew, complete with camera tracks and lighting rigs, recorded the festivities. And the core band was joined by some special guests — Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt.
The resulting CD/DVD documenting the event, tentatively titled Return To Trinity, is due in early September. It represents a rare instance of the band looking backward, however fondly, at their past work. “We didn’t want to re-create the record, because that would be impossible and pointless,” says guitarist-songwriter Michael Timmins. “But the idea was to revisit it twenty years later. Where have we brought these songs, how do they fit with us now?”
Chesnutt, who took the lead on “Postcard Blues”, had toured a couple of times with the Junkies, so he was an easy choice. Merchant, who anted up with her rendition of “To Love Is To Bury”, has been a longtime friend. Adams, who proffered “200 More Miles”, has often spoken in interviews about the heavy influence the record played in his own musical development.
“It had to be people whose music has had some meaning to us in our career, but also our music, specifically Trinity Session, had meaning for them,” says Timmins. Still, the most important supporting player in the whole equation remains the church itself.
“When we set up, literally from the first note, it was like — holy shit, this place sounds amazing. That church just sounds so incredible,” he marvels. “You forget how much the church played into it. And when Ryan plugged in and Natalie started to sing, they were all blown away. There is something magical about that place.”
The group also recently revisited their debut release, Whites Off Earth Now, and reissued it in a 5.1 surround sound mix — part of a long-range plan to look back at each of their past releases. “We want to release everything with a special twist on whatever the album happens to be, maybe a whole disc of demos or bonus tracks,” Timmins says. “Every album has a story, and that story is recorded.”
The group has also launched a digital music portal, www.latentrecordings.com, where they’ll make available rare recordings, live sets, one-off cuts, and albums Timmins has produced for other artists.
THE LAST ROUNDUP: Guitarist/vocalist and contributing songwriter JASON ISBELL has left the Drive-By Truckers. Isbell, who joined the band in 2001, will release a solo album, Sirens Of The Ditch, July 10 on New West Records….
The Truckers, meanwhile, will join Son Volt and the Old 97’s as guest performers with WILLIE NELSON at his annual Fourth of July Picnic, which will be held this year at the Gorge Amphitheater in central Washington state….
Easy Tiger, the new album from RYAN ADAMS, has been pushed back to a June 26 release (from its initially announced June 5 date). Sheryl Crow guests on the song “Two”….
German label Glitterhouse Records marks this year’s 10th anniversary of the death of TOWNES VAN ZANDT with the April 20 release of There’s A Hole In Heaven Where Some Sin Slips Through, an album of Van Zandt’s songs as rendered by Marah, Jon Langford & Sally Timms, Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, Jim White, the Tindersticks, the Walkabouts, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Neal Casal, Johnny Dowd, Ben Weaver and others….
MARTY STUART gathers some of his most memorable vocal pairings on Compadres: An Anthology Of Duets, due June 5 on Superlatone/Hip-O. His singing partners include Johnny Cash, Loretta Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Mavis Staples, George Jones and B.B. King.