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Album review: 'Johnny Cash Remixed'

January 26, 2009 |  6:40 pm

Johnny_cash240_ The best music remixes illuminate, amplify and/or smartly extrapolate on key components of their source material. When that doesn’t happen, it's just musical name-dropping, which is more often than not the case in this project built around the recordings Johnny Cash made in the ’50s for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis.

It’s understandable that Snoop Dogg, who co-produced the album with Cash’s son John Carter Cash and Mathew Knowles, feels some kinship with Cash’s persona as a social outlaw and champion of the dispossessed. But the ominous minor-key orchestration at the heart of QDT Muzic’s remix of “I Walk the Line,” which features Snoop and leads off the album, is utterly out of sync with the bits of Cash’s version that seep through the sonic soup.

Philip Steir’s heavy-handed techno take on “Get Rhythm” should work on a dance floor but probably won’t spur any club-goers to run out and explore more of the Man in Black’s catalog. Troublemaker’s stodgy groove on “Straight A’s in Love” ignores the swing in Cash’s vocal.

More successful is Count de Money’s bouncy version of “Big River,” which brings an extra dollop of swampiness that’s in keeping with the original spirit. Sonny J’s treatment of “Country Boy” pops playfully alongside Cash’s voice. Alabama 3’s kitchen-sink reworking of “Leave That Junk Alone” hones in on a message that’s still relevant for the hip-hop crowd, and the church organ that’s thrown around Cash’s voice midway through is a great touch.

The trouble with adding anything to Cash’s Sun work is that it automatically sacrifices a major part of its inherent appeal: the stark power of their simplicity. Cash stripped his music to the bone intentionally — clap tracks need not apply.

—Randy Lewis

Various Artists
“Johnny Cash Remixed”
2 stars