The Everly Brothers – All-Time Original Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Close in age and closer in harmony, the Everly Brothers were a major influence on the Beatles, Hollies, and Byrds, to say nothing of Simon & Garfunkel (whose cover of “Wake Up, Little Susie’ is how I discovered the sibling duo). Born in the late 1930s, Don and Phil Everly grew up in a musical family, appearing often on their father’s radio show in Iowa from an early age and eventually moving to Tennessee, where they decamped to Nashville as soon as they finished high school. Coming under the wing of Chet Atkins, the pair signed to the Acuff-Rose publishing firm (the subject of a paen by Uncle Tupelo) in 1956 and started recording songs by the spousal team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (who also wrote for Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, and whose work has been covered by Dylan, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, and Gram Parsons, among many others). Their hit-making days in the U.S. lasted into 1962, though they had better luck for a few more years in the U.K. and Canada. Drug addiction followed as their career stalled, though the pair recorded a well-received album (Roots) in 1968; the act split up in 1973. In the intervening years they pursued solo careers (Phil worked with Warren Zevon), but the brothers got back together in 1983 (they subsequently worked with Dave Edmunds and appeared on Paul Simon’s Graceland) and this time they lasted, with diminishing frequency, until Phil died in 2014. Don died in 2021.

What I Think of This Album

This carefully curated collection captures 16 chart hits – in chronological order, thank the lord – from 1957 to 1961. My personal favorite is “Take a Message to Mary,” followed very closely by “Cathy’s Clown,” but you can take your pick from a slew of standouts like “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” and “Bye Bye Love.” 

I do think “Bird Dog” is incredibly annoying, however. “Ebony Eyes” (written by John D. Laudermilk) is pretty awesome, and likely the inspiration for the Bigger Lovers’ “Casual Friday.”

Don generally sings the low parts and Phil the high ones; Don’s guitar playing has been hailed by Keith Richards, and he does do a cool bit on the intro to “Bye Bye Love.” Each was also a songwriter, with Don creating “‘Til I Kissed You” and Phil composing “When Will I Be Loved.” Apparently it is disputed who wrote “Cathy’s Clown.” 

Chet Atkins plays electric guitar on some of these songs. Floyd Cramer, of Elvis’s backing band, plays the excellent piano part on “Cathy’s Clown.” Pete Wingfield, who produced Dexy’s Midnight Runners and played keys for a number of artists, was in the Everly Brothers’ backing band after they reunited.

Some authorities take issue with the mixes on this Rhino comp, and also note that it omits several key songs from the brothers’ repertoire.

The brothers had a cousin named Jewel Guy, who changed his name to James Best professionally, and achieved pop culture fame as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Best Thing About This Album

The harmonies are heavenly.

Release Date

November, 1999

The Cover Art

Perfectly acceptable for a comp.


The English Beat – Wha’ppen?

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Initially, I only owned the What Is Beat? compilation but I eventually went all in (and sold the comp). The thing about What Is is that it’s not really a Best of collection, as it includes a bunch of non-album singles and relies on remixes or live versions instead of the studio versions of the album tracks. It’s more accurately considered a bizarre, fan-only sampler. I miss not having “Ranking Full Stop” and maybe some of the other singles, but I feel like I made the right choice. At a bare minimum, the first album is a must-own.

What I Think of This Album

Wha’ppen?, indeed. A decidedly different approach from the English Beat (much like, it should be mentioned, the change in sound that contemporaries the Specials engineered from first to second album), but just as successful as it was surprising. That said, it is the least immediate album of the band’s trilogy.

None of the singles from this album did very well, and I am not surprised. Few of the individual tracks stand out, but it all coheres pretty well despite the disparate styles on offer, coming across like a not-at-all annoying world music record. The tempos are much slower this time, and ska is at best just one of the styles in the mix. The English Beat incorporate pop, West African music, funk, jazz, steel drums, dub, and Spanish guitar, among other sounds, in a sophisticated and self-assured fashion that demonstrates the band’s confidence and competence. 

“Doors of Your Heart” is warm and smooth (maybe too much so), balanced by the energetic and paranoid “All Out to Get You,” on which Saxa cuts loose on his namesake instrument. There is a Latin feel to “Monkey Murders” (in fact, there is a melody part that sounds a lot like “La Bamba”). The anti-jingoist song “I Am Your Flag” doesn’t really work, but it is followed by the excellent cover of “French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud).” This, the only cover on the disc, is the closest the sextet gets to the spirit of I Just Can’t Stop It, though it is calypso and West African guitar in the place of ska.

Reggae is given the brittle new wave treatment on “Drowning,” and really the same can be said of woozy, drawn-out “Dreamhome in NZ,” with the addition of jazzy sax. “Walkaway” has more Afro-pop guitars supporting a winning melody. “Over and Over” is all hard edges and sharp corners, even with the addition of the steel drums and trumpet. “Cheated” is basically straight up dub.

Jazzy lite-funk is the vehicle for “Get-A-Job” and the album ends strong with the pleasantly meandering “The Limits We Set.” Bonus track “Too Nice to Talk To” relies on the edginess of the band’s earlier new wave songs but with the world music touches of the rest of the material on Wha’ppen?, including some distinctive African drumming.

I don’t want to diminish it, but this album is best enjoyed as a whole and without a lot of inspection, perhaps paired with a nice glass of red.

The original album contains twelve songs. I have the 1999 reissue, which adds non-album single “Too Nice to Talk To” as the first track, which is absolutely the wrong place for it. It throws off the feel of the whole album. Also, the liner notes on this reissue are absolute crap. They not only misspell two band member names, they omit vocalist Cedric Myton from the list of guest musicians. Oh, Bob Sargeant produced again.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think Saxa really does great work with a variety of sounds and styles.

Release Date

May, 1981 (original); 1999 (reissue)

The Cover Art

The original artwork is by cartoonist Hunt Emerson and the band, and is intriguing and colorful, though I can’t say it’s a favorite of mine.That said, the cover art for the reissue is a hot mess of a collage and not any kind of improvement.

Dressy Bessy – Pink Hearts Yellow Moons

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

An accomplished photographer, Tammy Ealom left an early version of the Minders in 1996 and formed Dressy Bessy, named after a toy doll from the ‘70s. Originally a three piece, the band absorbed John Hill, who was also a member of the Apples In Stereo (and Ealom’s partner). Ealom and Hill (now married) have remained the core of the band over seven albums and more than twenty years.

What I Think of This Album

I am tempted to compare this to soda, because it is sugary, sweet, fizzy, and fun, and once it’s over, you want more of it. But I don’t want to suggest it’s all empty calories. Food metaphors aside, this is a great piece of girl-group inspired indie pop, not surprisingly part of the Elephant 6 collective and also on the Kindercore label. Indeed, guitarist John Hill is a member of both Dressy Bessy and the Apples In Stereo, and main Apple Rob Schneider is on hand to help engineer and mix, and Apples drummer Hilarie Sydney lends backing vocals.

Tammy Ealom’s sing-song vocals dominate the album, girded by fat distortion from Hill and Ealom. Individual touches distinguish each song:  bassist Rob Greene excels on “I Found Out;” the melodica on “Just Like Henry” is whimsical; and “Lookaround” gets by on a martial beat. “Little TV” chugs along with brio (the sound effects are pretty great too), and the way Ealom emphasizes “pretty” on “Jenny Come On” makes it sound like she is mocking the subject of the song, the narrator of the song, the song itself, and the entire genre of indie-pop. I love it.

There is a charming innocence to “If You Should Try to Kiss Her” (well-arranged with keyboard and percussion touches). ”Extra-Ordinary” is one of the weaker songs on here, in terms of quality, but also the most surprisingly rockin’. The worst song is definitely “Big Vacation,” but let’s not dwell on that. “Makeup” could easily be an Apples In Stereo tune, and “You Stand Here” has some very welcome jangle.

The Best Thing About This Album

Ealom’s way with a melody.

Release Date

September, 1999

The Cover Art

My cover is muted pink and blue (and it is not faded – the back of the booklet is the same color), so I am not sure why this image comes up as red and blue. The design is by Ealom.

Tullycraft – Old Traditions, New Standards

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I had read about Tullycraft many times before I got around to purchasing some of their eight (!) albums; I will probably end up getting them all. This is a band that seems designed specifically for me to fall in love with. Tullycraft is from Seattle, and they formed in 1995, with Sean Tollefson (bass/vocals), Gary Miklusek (guitar/vocals), and Jeff Fell (drums), and by the end of the next year, they’d released a number of singles and a full-length album. Indie-pop fame followed, and the rest is history largely unknown to the public. Miklusek left the band and Chris Munford joined, and a number of other co-vocalists and guitarists have come in and out, but Tollefson appears to be the heart and soul of the band, and Fell has been around for all but the most recent album (in 2017).

What I Think of This Album

The first thing to know about Tullycraft is . . . well, no, the first thing to know is that they are a fantastic band. The second thing to know is that Sean Tollefson’s boyish, almost nasal, definitely amateurish vocals are not for everyone, and if you can’t get past that, you’re probably not going to be able to focus on the high quality of songwriting (and to a degree, the skilled musicianship). Once you accept that Tollefson’s vocals are actually a plus, you can revel in the clever lyrics, tuneful melodicism, playful energy, boundless sweetness, and intense dedication to indie pop and, fundamentally, self-acceptance.

Instant indie-pop classic “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About” is as good a summation of the band’s aesthetic and raison d’etre as any words I could write. The tune is a misguided but sincere attempt to woo the object of the narrator’s affection away from her boyfriend with a mix of references to obscure indie-pop artists and the repetition of the withering put down of the title. In this song, there are mentions of Neutral Milk Hotel, the Halo Benders, Nothing Painted Blue, Cub, and Heavenly. And those are just the ones whose albums I own. I left out the Orange Peels, Lois, the Pastels, the Crabs, and the Bartlebees (the last two being bands I’ve never even heard of). We are not done yet. The song also names more mainstream bands like the Breeders, Green Day, U2, Weezer, the Lemonheads, and even Sting. To the extent this sounds incredibly annoying, it is actually catchy as all get out and ridiculously charming. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, then you need to buy the entire Tullycraft discography (and keep an ear out for celebratory song “Twee,” which contains even more opaque indie references).

The subtext of “Pop Songs,” and as communicated by the band’s other work, is the confidence to love what you love unabashedly. Thus, “Josie” is about the leader of Josie and the Pussycats deciding that she “wants to be in a punk rock band” and that she will let her bandmates “know when it’s punk enough.” Robynn Iwata of Cub sings on “Josie,” and producer Pat Maley adds some keyboards.

There are also more or less straightforward and utterly guileless love songs, like “Willie Goes to the Seashore,” “Sweet” (which will melt your heart), and “Meet Me In Las Vegas.” And Tollefson broadens his horizons with ditties like the unexpected “Superboy & Supergirl,” which offers empathy to the beleaguered heroes, and more lyrically abstract songs like “Wish I’d Kept a Scrapbook” and “Dollywood,” the latter featuring some impressive guitar work from Mikulsek.

Even a deep track like “Then Again, Maybe I Don’t” is bursting with surprises, including an infectious chorus, a punk intro/refrain that won’t quit, and a creepy whistling interlude. This track contains guest vocals from Susan Robb (Incredible Force of Junior). Tullycraft puts their money where their indie cred is by covering the Bartlebees (“Miracles Are Hard to Find”) and the Judy’s (“Mental Obsession”). The Judy’s were an early ‘80s trio from Texas who played with the B-52s, the Talking Heads, and the Go-Go’s, and whom I will probably have to check out. The Bartlebees are a German band formed in 1990. An interesting note is that Chris Munford guested on the Bartlebees cover, and by the time of the next Tullycraft album, he was a full time member.

My version is the reissue on Darla (which does not appear to add any extras). My ONLY complaint with this album is that I wish there had been a lyric sheet supplied.

The Best Thing About This Album

The fresh and fearless approach.

Release Date

1996 (original); 1999 (reissue)

The Cover Art

Meh. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it.

Velvet Crush – Free Expression

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

Having started this project from both ends of the alphabet and working towards the middle, I think this is now the final Boblsed records release I own. Velvet Crush seems like the perfect band for Bobsled, though the debut would’ve been a better fit. In the end, this is last Velvet Crush album I owned. I know I bought Stereo Blues, and while “California Incline” is a sweet tune, the album didn’t do it for me. I don’t clearly remember if I owned Soft Sounds, and while I dig its Velvet Underground-inspired cover art, it is a bit mushy. The band has been quiet beyond that, though Ric Menck keeps busy with other bands and of course, they often perform as Matthew Sweet’s backing band on the road.

What I Think of This Album

Free Expression is the sound of Velvet Crush’s retrenchment. Down to the core duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, and having had their time on a major label imprint, the band reasserted its proper name (dropping the temporary and malign “The”), signed to indie Bobsled, largely jettisoned both the country inclinations and the hard rock gestures of the prior two albums, and recorded a batch of ‘60s derived power pop with their old friend Matthew Sweet.

The album is not as exuberant as any of their earlier releases, but it does benefit from a calm maturity and more sophisticated production. Basically, this is the album where the band shows off their craft. And it is packed with great pop songs. “Kill Me Now” is a quieter version of a song they could’ve included on In the Presence of Greatness. “Worst Enemy” is deceptively tough, and “Goin’ to My Head” manages to combine a jangly guitar, a thick bass, and buried guitar leads under layers of harmonies. “Heaven Knows” and the supple and silvery “Gentle Breeze” strongly leverage their country-rock style. The perfectly titled “Melody #1” is sublime. I’m a big fan of the double false start of “All Together,” as well as of its trumpet. “Shine On Me” has a keyboard hook that Fountains of Wayne was probably upset they didn’t come up with first. The ballads are just so-so, and there are too many of them (four), though “Ballad of Yesteryear” has some nice moments.

Guests include the legendary Greg Leisz, David Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts), and Steve Crumb on trumpet.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Melody #1” is a fantastic song, and the trumpet and chugging organ put it over the top.

Release Date

1999

The Cover Art

Easily the worst cover art of Velvet Crush’s career. Very creepy and not at all representative of the sounds inside. Also, the orange is terrible, the album title stamp is foolish, and the frame is hideous.

The Weakerthans – Fallow

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I have seen the Weakerthans live once. I saw the ad in the paper (or online (whatever)), and decided not to buy tickets in advance. The (new) Bottom Lounge holds maybe 500 people (? – I am bad at that) and I figured, “who the hell even knows the Weakerthans?” The good news is, I was wrong – it turns out a lot of people even know the Weakerthans. The bad news is, I was wrong – it turns out a lot of people even know the Weakerthans and thus the show was sold out, save for the higher priced VIP seating option. This was problematic. I had no objection to spending the money to get it – I had already sunk costs into arriving at the door, I very much wanted to see the band, and I had no real confidence that they were going to tour again soon. The obstacles were that I bristle at the notion of VIP seating, and also that such capitalist price structuring (to say nothing of the labeling) runs counter to the Weakerthans’ principles as well. I paid the extra money. The VIP seating was an elevated, enclosed platform at the back of the venue with cushioned stools and a private bar. I don’t usually drink at shows, I like being close to the stage, and I don’t think anybody who doesn’t need to sit should ever sit at a rock concert. So, basically I paid for amenities that added no value to my experience, but that’s okay. I got to see the band and I helped fund a venue that does a good job of bringing in acts I like.

What I Think of This Album

The personal is political is poetical. John K. Sampson leads his bandmates through what is essentially a series of short stories set to music. Sampson’s voice and vision thoroughly dominate the album (and the band), as does his history in lefty punk band Propoghandi, and his fiercely Canadian pride. The booklet opens with a quote from Manitoban intellectual, novelist, and poet Catherine Hunter reflecting on the difficult nature of existing, paired with a quote from British Columbian writer and academic Tom Wayman about the individual and collective strength of the downtrodden. The booklet ends with informational text about anarchist and socialist press and literature. In between are twelve clear-eyed vignettes about small moments and big ideas, whose lyrics are printed on top of graphics of a Winnipeg street map.

Some songs are spare (“Illustrated Bible Stories for Children”; “The Last Last One”) and some are more enthusiastically indie-pop (“Diagnosis”; “Wellington’s Wednesdays”). Meanwhile, the lyrical references meander from Milton’s Samson Agoniste to disco group Boney M. to P.G. Wodehouse to New Order’s “Temptation.” I have a preference for the faster, poppier songs. “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist”  brilliantly captures the dreary intersection of interpersonal relationships, political consciousness, and the practical realities of getting through the day:  “Leave the apartment to buy alcohol / Hang our diplomas on the bathroom wall / Pick at the plaster chipped away / Survey some stunning tooth decay / Enlist the cat in the impending class war/ Let’s lay our bad day down here, dear / Let’s make believe we’re strong / Or hum some protest song.” Drummer Jason Tait beats the hell out of the kit on this number. Guest Roberta Dempster adds some welcome backing vocals on the tunefully desperate “Letter of Resignation.” The highlight is the nervy, throbbing “Wellington’s Wednesdays,” a half-sad ode to seeking solace in live music (and specifically at Wellington’s, a punk club in Winnipeg that closed in 2001). The frustration of an inability to connect comes through on the heartfelt “Greatest Hits Collection.” And there is an appealing muscularity to the story of a solitary person coming to a solitary end in “Anchorless.” But don’t sleep on the quiet tunes, as “None of the Above” is sweetly sad, and “Sounds Familiar” is evocative, intelligent, and lyrical. “Letter of Resignation” and “Anchorless” had appeared on Propaghandi releases.

The Best Thing About This Album

The incorporation of the lyrics from “Temptation” – possibly the very best New Order song – into “Wellington’s Wednesdays” has been known to make me smile broadly.

Release Date

1997 (Canada); 1999 (U.S.)

The Cover Art

Simple, but effective.

The Clash – From Here to Eternity: Live

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 6)

The Clash were one of those bands that was greater than the sum of its parts. After being fired, Mick Jones formed General Public (with David Wakeling and Ranking Roger of the English Beat, as well as Horace Panter from the Specials, and the drummer from Dexy’s) and then Big Audio Dynamite, later partnering with Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Sisters of Mercy, and who had been in the London S.S. with Jones and Terry Chimes in their pre-Clash days) in Carbon/Silicon. He also produced the first two Libertines albums. Paul Simonon debuted Havana 3a.m., found success as a visual artist, volunteered as a Greenpeace activist, and then joined the Good, the Bad & the Queen. Strummer, as unlikely as it seems, collaborated with Jones on the second B.A.D. album, worked with the Pogues, did some acting, and then convened the Mescaleros. He died in 2002 of a congenital heart defect. Terry Chimes sat behind the kit for a diverse line-up including Black Sabbath, Hanoi Rocks, and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers; he then became a chiropractor. Topper Headon released a solo album and endured drug addiction and health problems.

What I Think of This Album

Cobbled together from shows spanning a five year period and two continents (to say nothing of two drummers), From Here To Eternity: Live is exactly the compelling document it should be. And because the album pulls from so many different concerts, there is no actual sequence to follow, though it is expertly edited together. Consequently, the album runs from roughly the start to the end of the Clash’s recording career.

The first nine songs are taken from the Clash and a couple of singles, while the rest come from London Calling and Combat Rock, augmented with one B-side. It’s a blistering set of performances proving that the band was as indeed a live juggernaut. Notable moments include Joe Strummer’s ad lib paying tribute to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs during the spoken word part of “Capital Radio” and an extended version of “Train In Vain.”

The Best Thing About This Album

The best thing is that this exists, and saves one from having to search out dubious bootlegs.

Release Date

October, 1999

The Cover Art

Meh. Points for trying, I guess.

The Wedding Present – Singles 1995-97

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 8)

I don’t understand the single. It’s a vestige of a long-gone era. Long live the album. Bands should just wait until they have enough songs for a proper album, and if they have songs left over or songs that they didn’t deem good enough? Well, they can put those on later albums. No one’s going to listen to me, of course, and while I appreciate that eventually some record company comes in to make money off the resulting compilation, usually that compilation is poorly handled.

What I Think of This Album

This is a confusing hodgepodge (big fucking surprise), and while it doesn’t necessarily suffer for it, a listener may be robbed of a better experience because of it. The centerpiece of the compilation is the clever Mini album, which was in fact a mini-album of 6 songs. It was also a Mini album in that, in keeping with its British namesake, each of those songs was somehow automobile-themed:  “Drive;” “Love Machine;” “Go, Man, Go”; “Mercury;” “Convertible;” and “Sports Car.” How could the record company could bury this charming exercise in the middle of a comp? Following the Mini album are four songs from the “2, 3, Go” single as well as the five songs from the “Montreal” single. And serving as amuse-bouche of sorts to Mini are the A and B sides of the “Sucker” single; the “Jet Girl” rarity; and a contribution to a Tom Waits covers album. Among the various B-sides are acoustic versions of other songs on this same album, and two live tracks of songs from George Best and Bizarro.

The odd and angular “Sucker” barely sounds like the Wedding Present, and more like a Fall outtake. It’s not bad, it’s just disposable. The same is true, unfortunately, of the cover of Butterglory’s “Waiting On the Guns.” This is a very poor start to a very good album, but things improve dramatically with “Jet Girl,” which sounds like it came from the Watusi sessions. Key to its appeal are Gedge’s excellent lyrics, as well as the harmony vocals from Jayne Lockey, who sings on all songs and plays bass on some of them. The mind-blowing cover of Tom Waits’s “Red Shoes By the Drugstore” is gritty and menacing, with a bass line so aggressively taunting that it might as well pull your pants down and laugh at you.

This brings us to the amazing Mini album portion of the comp, a resounding success mostly because Gedge is at the top of his game, going all in on the automobile metaphors. The music, however, cannot be overlooked. “Drive,” in fact, features a high-octane distorted guitar part. “Love Machine” has lovely background vocals and Gedge sounds appropriately anguished, as the band bashes about in midtempo (with a nice, subdued instrumental passage). “Go, Man, Go” is touching, with a muscular groove serving as the backdrop to a great vocal melody. A Seamonsters-like crawl dominates (most of) “Mercury,” which is only 26 layers of distortion away from having been on that album. The wittiest number is “Convertible,” in which Gedge seeks to seduce a new conquest despite already being attached (“Oh yes, her / I’m still with her / But I guess I’m always convertible / Just flick the switch and I’m yours”), only to be shot down by Lockey’s character:  “Yeah, you were just saying . . . / But I’m afraid you’re not staying / Because I’m not as naive / As you believe.” A warm organ, layered male and female harmonies, and sprightly drumming make this one of the best songs of the Wedding Present’s career, and definitely of the back half of their classic period. Drummer Simon Smith flexes his muscles on “Sports Car,” and likewise someone (Darren Belk, I guess) does a fine impersonation of Seamonsters-era Peter Solowka.

“2, 3, Go” is, oddly, also automobile-centric, and pretty good, at least in the chorus. The xylophone/vibes on the acoustic version of “Jet Girl” are giddily adorable. The harmony-threaded rave-up “Up” is a nice little gem. Gedge delivers one of his best ballads with the vulnerable and sorrowful “Montreal.” Lockey sings lead on the acoustic version of “Sports Car,” working an effective transformation. There is an exciting enthusiasm to “Project Cenzo” that does not quite manage to steamroll concerns about the lackluster songwriting. The cover of the Cheers theme song – yes, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – is entertaining once. And I certainly will never turn down a live version of “Brassneck.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Convertible” races straight down the dragstrip of my heart.

Release Date

October, 1999

The Cover Art

This is a neat, cotton candy abstraction, and certainly unusual for a record company compilation. I also like the superimposition of the text and fonts – it has a very 4AD/v23 feel. Where the record company did skimp was on the booklet. The liner notes on the inside are printed (if I can use that word) in verrrrrrrrrrrrry faint white ink on a black background and are essentially invisible. I could no more tell you who designed this cover than I could traverse the Sahara on rollerblades.

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I listen to a smattering of country-adjacent music, but – it should probably not even need to be explained – I do not listen to modern country at all. I have some small interest in the outlaw country of the ‘70s:  Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. I don’t feel strongly about Johnny Cash. He’s fine; I watched Walk the Line. That was okay, too. He only wrote a small number of the songs he performs on this album. I should note that his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” does nothing for me.

What I Think of This Album

This album resurrected Cash’s career. He had performed at prisons before – the first time in 1957, over a decade before this concert – but his career had waned as his drug problem worsened. His discipline in and out of the studio was poor, and his band apparently encouraged the idea of playing at Folsom because it didn’t involve working up any new songs (and it would also force Cash to rehearse).

With Bob Johnston (Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel) newly installed as staff producer at Columbia, Cash, backing band the Tennessee Three (bassist Marshall Grant, drummer W.S. Holland, and guitarist Luther Perkins), backing vocalists the Statler Brothers, and June Carter traveled to California to rehearse before the prison shows. They performed two shows at Folsom on January 13, 1968 – one in the morning and one around noon.

Los Angeles radio DJ Hugh Cherry was the emcee, and he directed the prisoners to not cheer when Cash took the stage but to wait until he introduced himself. It was a brilliant move. The recording begins with the classic “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” and then a gigantic eruption of cheers. From that point forward, the dynamic between Cash and the 2,000 prisoners energized the recording. Cash’s respect and compassion for the audience was evident, and they clearly appreciated his efforts.

The setlist consists of three types of songs:  ballads, novelty songs, and the more energetic numbers. Many of the songs are prison-themed, of course, including one written by a a prisoner then at Folsom, Glen Sherley. Sherley had gotten a recording of “Greystone Chapel” to Cash through the prison pastor, and arrangements were made to have Sherley, who did not know the song would be performed, sit in the front row for the concert.

The highlights include great versions of “Folsom Prison Blues”; “Cocaine Blues”; “Stripes”; “Orange Blossom Special” (with Cash going to town on two harmonicas (not at the same time)); “I Still Miss Someone”; and “Greeen, Green Grass of Home.” Also noteworthy is the darkly comic “25 Minutes to Go,” written by Shel Silverstein. And the duets with June Carter are excellent:  “Jackson” is electrifying, and “Give My Love to Rose” is touching.

The original album had 16 songs, all but two from the morning show. I have the 1999 reissue, expanded to 19 tracks and with liner notes from Steve Earle.

Potpourri:  The album has sold over 3 million copies in the U.S. Glen Sherley was eventually released and, while he made a stab at a career in music, he struggled with life on the outside (members of the Tennessee Three reported that Sherley spoke openly of murdering them) and, after shooting someone, committed suicide in 1978. June Carter and Johnny got married a couple of months after the recording. The “Folsom Prison Blues” single was edited (to remove the key line “I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die”) and re-released after the assassination of Robert Kennedy; it became a number 1 hit on the country charts. Cash had written the song in 1953 and originally recorded it in 1955. Luther Perkins died several months after the recording, having fallen asleep in his living room with a lit cigarette.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Stripes” is a song I used to sing to my daughter when she was an infant.

Release Date

May, 1968 (original); October, 1999 (reissue)

The Cover Art

The close-up of a sweaty Cash mid-performance, by photographer Jim Marshall, is a great shot. The font is pretty good, too.

The Wedding Present – Singles 1989-1991

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

I don’t understand the UK singles market; I find it confusing that any one song can be released in so many different formats, and it all seems like a bit of a scam. I heartily welcome compilations like this, even though there is inevitable overlap with the albums . . . provided the record company doesn’t fuck it up.

What I Think of This Album

At 33 tracks spread out over two CDs, you can’t complain about value. Of course, some of these songs are already captured on studio albums, but there is just enough here to entice a serious fan (and no one else needs to purchase this). The bigger problem is that Manifesto did a shit job with this pressing. The sonics of this release are terrible – comparing the (non-live) songs here with their counterparts on the albums reveals a tinny, thin, anemic sound. This really is an insult to the consumer, as well as the artist.

The first disc consists of the band’s five RCA singles and B-sides, all from the Bizarro and Seamonsters era. Thus, A-sides “Kennedy,” “Brassneck,” and “Dalliance” are superfluous, and my version of Bizarro already included the three “Brassneck” B-sides; plus, it turns out that Seamonsters track “Corduroy” is a Three Songs B-side. This leaves ten new songs, and a single edit of Seamonster’s track “Lovenest.”

Of those ten songs, four are covers. Of the six originals, “One Day This Will All Be Yours” is a breakneck track whose lack of melody is almost compensated for by the impressive speed of the drumming and strumming. “Unfaithful” fares better, a still-slight song that would have snugly sat amongst the tracks on George Best. A true gem, the complex and compelling “Crawl” could have been a standout Bizarro song; the guitars on this are splendid. Another winner is the shifting “Niagara,” with a classic Gedge vocal and some emotion behind the changes in tempo. “Dan Dare” is a strange title, but it’s a really fun instrumental with a great lead guitar part; this likewise would’ve been a superb addition to Bizarro, even without lyrics. The even more strangely titled “Fleshworld” (seriously?) again is a drumming showcase, and the early guitar part is cool, but the song never really develops. With a little more work, though, this could’ve been something good.

The covers include a quadruple-time version of Tom Jones’s hit “It’s Not Unusual,” which is ridiculous; and “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” a tune I admit I was not familiar with, though the Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel song has also been covered by Duran Duran and Erasure. This is a pretty good song! The cover of the Velvet Underground’s “She’s My Best Friend” is fairly faithful and thus pointless. “Mothers” is a Jean-Paul Sartre Experience song, and I don’t know the original, but the cover is decent and the drumming is cool.

The second disc is basically rarities and live tracks. “I’m Not Always So Stupid” was actually included on my version of George Best, and “Crushed” was on Bizarro, leaving thirteen new tracks, nine of which are live recordings from 1990 spanning the George Best and Bizarro discs. Three of the remaining four songs are covers. So “Blue Eyes” is the only truly new song here, and it’s very good. Penetration’s “Don’t Dictate” is the first cover, and that’s a tough one to improve on – Gedge can’t compete with Pauline Murray’s vocals. “Cumberland Gap” is an even weirder choice, and indeed, it’s silly filler. “Signal” is an instrumental by Pell Mell, another education for me, but again, not really a song anyone needs to hear twice. The live tracks are all worth it – they are a great batch of songs and the band certainly does them justice.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Crawl” beats out “Dan Dare” by a nose.

Release Date

March, 1999

The Cover Art

In light of how poorly Manifesto handled the sound on this album, I am not surprised they put zero thought into the cover art.

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