Review: John Carter Cash- The Family Secret
I think I misjudged John Carter Cash just a little. Last month, he, his wife, and his cousin released an album as The Carter Family III and in my review I had this to say: “This album is a great traditional country album, although I wish they had recorded a few more originals. It’s not groundbreaking by any means and, of course, other family members have done far better in the past. That’s not the point. If you want groundbreaking, genre-bending music, check out the new Shooter Jennings album.”
I stand by my statement for that particular record, but Mr. Cash, I apologize for selling you far too short. On his upcoming solo album The Family Secret, which comes out the 21st of this month, Cash mixes dark lyrics, elements of traditional country, folk, piano rock, and old-school metal to create a totally unique sound. You hear that last phrase far too often for it to resonate, so allow me to repeat it: this sounds like nothing else out there.
From the beautiful opening cover of Loudon Wainwright’s “Swimming Song,” which sounds like Lindsey Buckingham and Cat Stevens meet Bruce Hornsby with Pete Seeger on banjo, through to the stripped-down hidden track where Cash covers the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” to all of the (mostly) original tunes in between, this album is truly spectacular.
But it’s the first original that gets to me the most. The melancholy piano-heavy rock of “Cab Casket” oozes with true power and obliquely spiritual Chris Cornell-esque lyrics that speak to the darkness within. On the other hand, I could not concentrate on the lyrics to “Shadows Cross the Seine,” because it was so musically overpowering. Think Iron Maiden covering “Aqualung” with Joe Satriani (here played by Kenny Vaughan) shredding on guitar.
Of course, I must mention the title track. I’m sure that all of you are expecting a poignant, heartfelt, and perhaps overly sentimental tribute to Johnny and June here and, indeed you do get that later on in the album (“No One Gets Out of Here Alive”). But not on this tune. No, this is a straight up Zeppelin and Ramones-inspired bar rock number about, well…I’ll let it speak for itself. “Mama told me daddy was the Wolfman,” Cash says, “Every night he went howlin’ at the moon/She said ‘don’t cry, little child, he’ll be comin’ home soon/In time you’ll learn to understand/Daddy is the Wolfman.” This is pure fun, but in a world that takes itself far too seriously we need more of that.
Elsewhere we find Irish ballads such as the eight-minute epic “Killarney,” the Metallica-inspired heavy metal song “Uncle Sam is Dead,” a Tom Paxton cover, and several traditional country-styled numbers, the best of which are “If God Made Anything Better than a Woman” and “Unforgettable Dance.”
But by far the best numbers here are the piano ballads, such as the aforementioned “Cab Casket,” the almost unbelievably dark and lyrically complicated ’80s New Wave-influenced “Santa Monica,” and the early Springsteen meets Meat Loaf of “Love By Any Other Name.”
Quite simply, this is something totally different. If you want twang and tradition, look elsewhere (perhaps on The Carter Family III album I mentioned earlier). If you want great music, you could certainly find a more consistent album, but you would be hard-pressed to find one as unique. In fact, the eclectic nature of the record becomes part of the charm.
In all honesty, I can’t recommend this album to the Americana community at large because I have no idea what you listen to outside the genre. But if you want something new and exciting or, like me, you simply dig the idea of Tom Paxton and Blue Oyster Cult being covered on the same record, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.