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June Carter Cash - Keep on the Sunny Side: Her Life in Music Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 August 2005

June Carter Cash

Keep on the Sunny Side: Her Life in Music
format: 16-bit stereo CDs (2)
label: Columbia/Legacy
release year: 2005
performance: 9
sound: 7
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Image With the passing last year of June Carter Cash, followed gratefully and inevitably by her husband Johnny shortly thereafter, a true torch was passed in American music. As much as the legacy of Johnny Cash has been properly recognized and assessed, wife June was truly the bridge between past and present, the youngest member of original country pioneers the Carter Family and mother of Carlene, who was married to new wave rocker/producer Nick Lowe for a while in the ‘80s.
It takes quite a bridge to span that much culture, and the new double CD set Keep On the Sunny Side: June Carter Cash – Her Life in Music, the first retrospective dedicated entirely to her work, wonderfully illustrates just how long and wide that bridge was. Many have forgotten that June had a successful career in show business for nearly 25 years before she met Johnny Cash, and Johnny himself once wrote that her marriage to him had almost caused June's brilliant talent to be overshadowed. Although June was often perceived as an adjunct to Johnny after marrying him in 1968, nothing could really have been farther from the truth. June was a veteran entertainer in her own right as a comedienne and actress who studied under Lee Strasberg, as well as the dynamic singer rooted in country tradition as the youngest member of the pioneering Carter family.

Keep On the Sunny Side deftly mixes the big hits like “Ring Of Fire,” “Jackson” and the various incarnations of “Keep On the Sunny Side,” the family theme song, including a 1939 recording featuring a wildly precocious 10-year-old June, along with some more obscure releases and a couple of unreleased tracks. The selections chronicle June's career, including her long association with the Carter Sisters & Maybelle (called "the Carter Family" by the 1960s), as well as the duets with her husband.

Proceeding chronologically, the album kicks off with the Original Carter Family singing their show-stopping title track, along with a version of "Oh Susannah," also sung by June when she was 10 and already showing obvious promise as a singer and entertainer. She displays the same confidence in "Root, Hog or Die," recorded in 1949, after patriarch A.P. Carter had retired and split up with Sara, and “Mother Maybelle” took over the group with daughters June, Anita and Helen. She had already established her trademark growl that one can hear in singer Patsy Cline and other of June’s then-contemporaries in country music.

To understand June’s remarkable versatility, give a listen to the sorrowful "Without a Love," the pop-folkish "He's Solid Gone," the hillbilly lunacy of "No Swallerin' Place," the rambunctious "Juke Box Blues," the bizarre exotica of "The Heel," the agility and effortless flow of "Tall Loverman," her own confessional "Ring of Fire," or the no-nonsense "Jackson" duet and her strength of conviction in Appalachian Pride, her 1975 solo debut album that is included here in its entirety.

Although their work has often been overshadowed by that of the earlier Original Carter Family, and then later by their contribution as the backing group for Johnny Cash, June, Helen and Anita, along with Maybelle Carter, were some of the most gifted musicians, songwriters, singers and performers in all of country music. This fine collection may finally set the record straight.

As much of this material was recorded in the dimly-remembered beginning of technological time, there are inevitably sound limitations on some of the early tracks, but it is these vintage recordings that are truly priceless here. And as the set progresses chronologically, the recordings sound even more powerful with modern technology behind it.

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