June Carter Cash
Let's face it, June Carter Cash was a great entertainer, but her voice wasn't exactly all that. But neither is Neil Young's. Hmm. On this, her final album before "going where there's no depression" last May, Carter Cash threw open the vaults and laid her illustrious country music pedigree out like a picnic. While her voice sounds like its been ridden really hard, and put away really wet, there are a few choice morsels in the spread. Her uncle A.P. Carter's "Storms Are On The Ocean" with Norman Blake on guitar, Nancy Blake on cello and Laura Cash on violin is a somber and timeless farewell that doesn't suffer from the exuberant overproduction of some of the other tracks. In fact, the musical presence of Norman and Nancy Blake is probably the saving grace of this album. "Alcatraz," "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea," and "Anchored in Love" are also spot on, but many of the other arrangements just don't fit the tone of the songs -- "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" being the best example of this lack. Maybe June was just too much of a comedian, too bubbly to convey the plaintiveness that defined so many of the Carter family songs.
Yes, we're all tired of the "outsider" artist and musician label, but if anyone ever epitomized the self-taught, not-very-stable creative genius pigeonhole, it's Daniel Johnston. Like his comrade in kookiness, Wesley Willis, Johnston got his start by distributing homemade cassette tapes in the '80s. As his cult following grew and bands like Sonic Youth and Nirvana began singing his praises, Johnston became more of a phenom than a cult figure. Because of his acclaim, many professional musicians have now glommed onto Johnston, and much of the lo-fi charm of his earlier recordings is lost amidst the blur of professional production. Still, Daniel's whiny, forlorn voice still comes across on songs like "Love Enchanted" as he delivers perfect lines like "I was lost in the discount bin/ Listening to the tired philosophers."
The Mountain Goats
We Shall All Be Healed
Like a latter-day Paul Revere galloping headlong through the streets of America to warn us all with the light of his voice that the idiots are coming, John Darnielle of the Moutain Goats has something urgent in his laconic voice. It's not so much what he sings, but how he races toward his subjects -- meth addicts, photography, wounded fugitives, liquor store holdups, sugar, rats, biblical pigs -- that makes his every word feel so crucial. And what, you are asking, do the Mountain Goats sound like? Well, to prove my theory that they sound just like a three-legged race conjoining Lou Reed's "Dirty Boulevard," The Violent Femmes' "Please Do Not Go" and Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" all in one, I got three CD players and played all three of these songs at once. And I was right. We Shall All Be Healed is an excellent album.