The Johnny Cash Children’s Album – Johnny Cash
Columbia/Legacy“The big kid. He always would rather have laughed than cried.”
- John Carter Cash describing his father, 3/1/06
If time is an ocean, then one shouldn’t immediately think of Johnny Cash as that old, dying man making his last profound records with Rick Rubin. Indeed, like Elvis Presley, there were many chapters and legions of styles floating in and around his beautiful sea. I was fortunate enough to catch Cash and his wife, June Carter, at San Francisco’s Fillmore in late 1996, before his Parkinson’s kicked in, ending his long touring career. This moment seemed like a demarcation point between what always rolled in waves throughout his Weird Americana tales, from early rock n’ talkin’ blues, outlaw country, tombstone shit kickers, speed chasers and his linear line towards his inevitable end.
His children’s album was recorded from 1971 through 1973, released on LP in 1975, and remastered for the first time on CD in May 2006. The new edition contains four unreleased bonus tracks that add further color to a relaxed dozen plus three that amble down the country roads over the hills of eastern Tennessee back in the thickets with bears, timber and a dinosaur or three before heading back through town where the fire engines are red (imagine that) and the little glasses are magic and the Dan be nasty.
Perhaps, what is most surprising about these delightfully playful songs is that Cash can create such rich, life affirming youth music that can easily sit on the shelf besides his latter day chilling death chant vibes he cooked up with Rubin as the grim reaper waited impatiently outside the window. That was always the thing with Cash — his simple voice and songs appeared so opaque but upon further inspection, they revealed a man deeply committed to life’s mysteries and his hard-earned faith that a child’s dreams could always come true as long as one’s mind was free and uncluttered; two traits that were not always present in Cash’s own troubled mind.
The tunes drift in and out of Boogie Man tales like “Nasty Dan,” who never took a bath and ate nails for lunch (an early Wookie prototype, no doubt), and the elegant waltz of “Miss Tara.” There is “Call of the Wild,” which has Cash detailing the treacherous flight south of a gaggle of geese avoiding man’s shotgun and the album’s lone duet with his June, “I Got A Boy and His Name is John,” a mischievous romp written for their son, who wrote the liner notes for the new release with a touching tale about his time with his dad fishing and going to the movies and, generally, painting a fluid portrait about how his father enjoyed every moment he had with the various children that drifted by his infinite plane of vision. For the linguist in your life, the most eccentric and enchanting bonus track is “Ah Bos Cee Dah” where Cash gives a simple template for learning the alphabet and offers another example of how to combine language, passion and a witty yarn to grab any listener in the deep and wide ocean of his timeless music.