Some very familiar names have joined forces to honor the late June Carter Cash. George Henn and Mike Madden have the lowdown
George Henn: Anchored in Love is a tribute album put together by Johnny and June Carter Cash‘s son, John Carter Cash, to coincide with his new book of the same name and perhaps (call me cynical) cash in a bit on the success of Walk the Line, the acclaimed big-screen account of his late parents’ courtship. And just as with many a Hollywood production, there is some questionable casting on this CD.
Most notably, Sheryl Crow is barely recognizable and utterly lifeless as Willie Nelson‘s duet partner on “If I Were a Carpenter,” while Elvis Costello‘s easy-listening arrangement of “Ring of Fire” downright extinguishes any of the lyrical passion that makes the song great, and it seems better suited for his next collaboration with Burt Bacharach.
Mike Madden: It’s true that “If I We’re a Carpenter” is a misstep, but that’s due in part to both Nelson and Crow canceling each other’s performances out. It makes perfect sense for them to be on the project, but why together? If you took lesser talents and matched them up with both, then you’d have a better chance at a memorable pairing.
The second duet on the album, Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn‘s take on “Jackson,” also has no spontaneity to it, but that’s primarily due to Dunn’s over-polished vocal delivery.
Henn: At least Carter and Dunn combine for some pleasing harmonies as well as the right amount of playful interplay. Elsewhere, Kris Kristofferson‘s weathered grumble contrasts well with Patty Loveless‘ sunny voice on “Far Side Banks of Jordan.”
The only other vocal collaboration also is one of the disc’s more disposable tracks; once you get past the puzzling inclusion of Billy Bob Thornton reciting the verses on “Road to Kaintuck,” the angelic choruses by the Peasall Sisters are quite enjoyable. Thankfully, there are no more actors making cameos on the disc, only singers who for the most part bring much more emotion and charisma to the songs, particularly in the case of Grey DeLisle‘s convincing rendering of “Big Yellow Peaches.”
Madden: That emotion is certainly what makes Loretta Lynn‘s version of “Wildwood Flower” so charming. She was a true contemporary of June Carter Cash and delivers a performance that can be summed up as a country singer singing like a country singer.
But she’s not the only performer that’s sticking to the genre’s humble roots. Brad Paisley, a big-selling success in Nashville but critically ignored, shows on “Keep on the Sunny Side” that country/folk can be fun without mentioning beer and beaches. And this is in direct tribute to the music of the Carter Family as well as that far gone era in music history.
Henn: If we’re going to single out classic country singers who deliver on this disc, then we can’t ignore the ever-elegant Emmylou Harris‘ contribution to close the album. “Song to John” is June’s extremely personal and spiritual message of assurance to Johnny about the strength of their bond and their faith, and Harris exudes such warmth and affection in her voice that she could be mistaken for the songwriter herself. For all of the album’s inconsistency, at least it ends with a performance homespun and genuine enough to rate with those of June Carter Cash herself.