Thursday 31 March 2011

Johnny Cash Bootleg Vol.2

Johnny Cash
Bootleg Vol.2 - From Memphis to Hollywood

From Memphis to Hollywood is the second volume in the Johnny Cash's Bootleg series. Again it's a double CD, this time focusing on the Sun Records period of 1954 to late ’57, and his first decade at Columbia Records from 1958 to 1969.
The first CD kicks off with a stunning 15-minute live May 1955 broadcast from KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas hosted by Johnny himself. A mixture of live Sun songs and sponsorship announcements, it's historic value is up there with the Hank Williams Health & Happiness shows that first emerged many moons ago. What struck me was JC's voice when publisising the Home Equipment Company's wares - it doesn't actually sound like him, and it's strange to hear his uncertain manner, compared to the confident narrator he became. There's an Irish butcher's dozen of demos with just Johnny and his acoustic guitar - essential listening for Sun and JC afficianados. The sound quality is really good except for his demo of Rock 'n' Ruby, but it's inclusion is more than justified as it's great to hear Cash in rockabilly mode.
We also seven outtakes from Sun recording sessions, commencing with a driving Wide Open Road. The fun sun of ol JC comes to the surface in Leave That Junk Alone but the pick for me is his cover of Brakeman's Blues and a magical, acoustic rehearsal of Big River, with alternate lyrics. I was really looking forward to hearing his original demo of Restless Kid, a number that I love courtesy of Ricky Nelson. I'd love to have heard him do it with Luther and Marshall, but even so, this is a great demo, with Johnny's vocal sounding so manly compared to Ricky's - they both work equally well though, as the young gun sound of Ricky also fits the lyrics.

The second disc sees the Dyess Dark Dresser move to Columbia and features 23 studio numbers, including non-album singles, outtakes and b-sides (11 tracks of which have been previously unreleased) together with a pair of demos. The sound is crisp and clear with the songs having a spit and polish that seems miles away from disc one. The early highlights are the Johnny Yuma Theme (almost Restless Kid) and The Losing Kind. The single version of Locomotive Man is as good as anything he ever did. Foolish Questions is a rare treat, a funny song that can withstand repeat plays. It's so dry and gives a small insight into a man that obviously suffers fools lightly. Being a Forestry boy I also found a lot to enjoy in The Frozen Logger.

My only critisism of the second CD is that the alternative versions don't differ much from the released takes. But that's being picky - this is a quality release that will appeal to old and new Cash fans alike.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Lee Rocker - The Cover Sessions (EP)

Lee Rocker - The Cover Sessions (EP)
Upright Records

1. Come Together (The Beatles cover)
2. Drivin’ My Life Away (Eddie Rabbit cover)
3. Honky Cat (Elton John cover)
4. City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman cover)
5. Ramblin’ Man (The Allman Brothers cover)
6. Come Dancing (The Kinks cover)

Of all the solo work the former Stray Cats members have done since they disbanded, to me Lee Rocker has been the most rewarding, album wise. While I like most of Brian's band stuff and look fiorward to his forthcoming instrumental album, Rocker has never strayed far from his rockabilly roots. Without a doubt, his Live album is the best any of them have done as solos. This new release is a 6 song EP of songs he grew up with. He sums it up best by describing the album as “a rockabilly record, it’s not really a country record, but it’s something in between.” Whilst the new versions might not be earth-shatteringly differenent from the original, the double bass and acosutic feel, together his harmonicas, banjos and dobros gives them a real, feel good, earthy feel that make this a more than justifiable exercise.

In an interview with OC Weekly, Rocker explained how the project came about. “The story behind [the] EP is that over the past few years, I became really interested in acoustic instruments. I started collecting banjos, dobros, ukeleles, an auto harp, folk guitars, harmonicas, accordions, and all kinds of percussion stuff like a washboard and spoons… I went in the recording studio and just started messing around with all these instruments. I found myself gravitating to songs I heard on AM radio as a kid.”

I really like this collection and have to comment on how much his voice has improved since the b-side days of Cross That Bridge. If I had to choose favourites I'd have to go for Drivin’ My Life Away. A great song that I fell in love with via Sonny Fisher - which to me is still the version to beat. The only track that I wanted to be better was City of New Orleans - I just wanted wanted it to kick ass half way through - pick up a little steam so to speak! So all told, another recommended album from Lee Rocker.