Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Exception to the Rule...

The rule is that I don't like country music. It wasn't always so, but between the time I spent living in Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia, I just got sick of it. I just grates my ears now.

The exception is Johnny Cash. I think a large portion of my affinity for the Man in Black comes from the fact that he seems so much more real than anyone else in country music. He sings with the feel of a man at the poker table, making his bets, and counting his demons. In particular, his American Series of records, are just amazing.

One of the things that Cash did so well was to take a song that's been played out by other people, and remake it into something that's completely his. Danny Boy, Hurt, Personal Jesus, Rowboat, Rusty Cage, One, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Desperado, and many other songs, were all initially performed by other artists. However, Cash made them his. His style. His voice. His soul.

The song that I think most illustrates this is his treatment of the traditional gospel song "Run On". Here is the song being sung in the traditional manner, by none other than Elvis Presley.

It's a fairly upbeat, evangelical song. Note the emphasis is on the "Go Tell". It's a song from righteous people, for righteous people. Well in line with Presley's Pentecostal upbringing.

Here's Cash's take.

Completely different. It's a clap-stomp rhythm that speaks of a darker place. The emphasis shifts from "Go Tell" to "God's gonna cut you down". Far from the Pentecostal evangelism of the original, Cash brings out something more puritanical. Simply put, Cash puts the brimstone back into the song. The song is no longer about the righteous exhorting each other towards evangelism. It cuts out the middle man, it goes from a song about evangelism, to an evangelistic song, warning the sinners of the vengeance of an implacable God. He even changes the name from "Run On" to "God's Gonna Cut You Down".

It's that kind of power that allows me to enjoy Cash's work, despite being sick to death of the genre.

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