CD Reviews

June Carter Cash
Press On
Risk/Small Hairy Dog

June Carter Cash—niece of A.P. Carter, daughter of Maybelle Carter (who both basically invented country music), and doting wife to hubby Johnny Cash (happily so, too—read her "Recipe for a Happy Life" essay in the CD insert, in which she tells us that she keeps herself submissive to the Man in Black and that she tries to always do the things he wants her to do; apparently, the women's movement never trudged across June's consciousness). She has been opening his shows for years while forgoing a promising career of her own. Now that Johnny has been sidelined indefinitely with Parkinson's disease, June has found time to make Press On, a majestic 45 minutes of some of the purest acoustic traditional country you're ever likely to hear, echoing with fiddles, autoharps, mandolins and dobros. At her most sentimental, June sounds like your mom lulling you to sleep with gentle hymns. Listen to: June Carter Cash
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Download the RealPlayer FREE! At Press On's most inspired, it's like being present at the music's birth in the 1920s, hangin' and twangin' with the Carter family around their old front porch on a firefly-filled Virginia twilight. Intimate tunes, all right, with June's love of family (Johnny pops in to sing on "The Far Side Banks of Jordan"), friends (Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart show up, too), and especially Jesus ("Diamonds in the Rough" is an inspired stab at Uncle A.P.'s spiritual chestnut; "The Far Side Banks of Jordan" is divine country gospel) shimmering through the whole disc. This ain't all old-time-country, cornball Jesus Saves stuff, though, if that's what you're thinking. Turns out June has a sense of humor, as on "Tiffany Anastasia Lowe," a grandma's plea for her actress kin not to go near Quentin Tarantino's set, who "makes his women wild and mean," who "[S]ometimes get stuck with a hypodermic needle/They dance a lot and lose a lot of blood/But what's the good of loving John Travolta/If he's always dragging you through the mud?" Particularly charming is "Ring of Fire," one of Johnny's signature tunes that June happens to have written for him. Her take is more devotional and prettier than his, but at the same time, it makes Social Distortion's version seem darker and more desperate. The album ends with A.P.'s "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," nothing less than the Country Music National Anthem, which June and Stuart strip down to a slow, mournful heartache that touches heaven—a better home a-waitin' in the sky, indeed. Press On is a superb, beautiful piece of work, and June Carter Cash is the one person besides maybe Emmylou Harris who could pull off the kind of rootsy country that none of today's newer, slicker, country-pop celebrities seems to be very interested in anymore. Shania, hon, you could use some subtlety lessons from Momma June.

 
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