The 58-year-old Cash has recently told interviewers that much of the music of her youth now strikes her as callow. And, given the fertile alt-country fields from which she’s harvesting these meditative melodies of her maturity and the Deep South detail of the lyrics, it’s easy to sympathize (if not agree) with what she means. Still, a river and a thread run through her entire oeuvre, and they’re worth listening for—especially when they unite her, ever so tenuously, with her father’s old-time religion.
Don’t mistake for hubris the rapid-fire recitation of rock-and-soul greats that introduces this best-selling U.K. album’s title cut: Newman isn’t placing himself in the pantheon so much as longing to follow in his heroes’ footsteps and to keep their blazed trails smoking. Unfortunately, he rains on their parades. Vocally, he mistakes reach for grasp and rasp for depth. Melodically, he’s repetitive and short on hooks. Production-wise, he’s long on bombast. The United States, where Tribute debuted at 24 then dropped to 110, is proving commendably resistant.
Like last year’s EP1, EP2 sequences four sharply engineered, genre-mashing songs for maximum wallop. But while EP1’s loudest song came at the end, EP2’s comes at the beginning. And whereas an “Andro Queen” inspired EP1’s prettiest song, the last days of Frank Black’s good friend Larry Norman seems to have inspired EP2’s pretty “Greens and Blues.” Or so lyrics such as “If I ever seem a little strange, / would you excuse me please? [...] I’m only visiting this shore” would lead one to believe.
Of the six selections on this acoustic, 13-song 1970 show not also represented on Young’s solo, acoustic, 17-song Live at Massey Hall 1971, the highlight is “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” which Young introduces for 3½ minutes, raking the strings of a Steinway grand and—perhaps revealing his state of mind at the time—admitting that it’s “about dope.” As for why his ramblings occasionally crack him up: “You’d laugh too, you know, if this is what you did for a living.”
Of all the musicians who’ve recently died, none seemed more mythical than Pete Seeger. Balding and rail thin in even his earliest professional photos, he seemed perennially old—a Johnny Banjoseed showing up at every socialist-leaning or just plain “social justice”–leaning event of the 20th and 21st centuries to serenade disgruntled masses. To the extent that the naïvely utopian fantasies he supported have become reality, he deserves opprobrium.
Yet, being human, Seeger was inconsistent. And, being inconsistent, he sometimes got things right. “What will we do,” he sang on his 1979 album, Circles & Seasons, “when there’s nothing left to read and there’s nothing left to need, there’s nothing left to watch, there’s nothing left to touch, there’s nothing left to walk upon and nothing left to talk upon, nothing left to see, and nothing left to be—but garbage?” There’s a word for the asking of essential questions 35 years before their time: prophecy.