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Classic Album Reviews: Various Artists | Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash / Dressed in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash

Two superb, star-studded tribute sets give the Man In Black his due.

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This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


If there’s any singer-songwriter out there who deserves a damn tribute album, it’s Johnny Cash. Hell, he deserves two. And, accommodatingly enough, that’s exactly what he’s getting.

Kindred Spirits and Dressed in Black, two separate albums chock full of Cash classics covered by contemporary country and rock acts, both landed in record stores recently. Which one you should go for — assuming you don’t have the bread or the Cash fanaticism to buy both — depends on how you take your C&W.

If you prefer bigger names, better production and a more professional approach, go for Kindred Spirits. It was put together by Marty Stuart and features a big-name roster that includes Dwight Yoakam (putting his Bakersfield twang into Understand Your Man), Bob Dylan (wheezing and lurching through Train of Love), Hank Jr. (belting out Big River), Bruce Springsteen (doing a mournful solo version of Give My Love to Rose), Steve Earle (strolling through a rustic version of Hardin Wouldn’t Run) and Little Richard (burning down the house on Get Rhythm).

Dressed in Black, by contrast, is geared towards rockabilly fans, punks and hardcore roots-rock geeks. Instead of Hank Jr., you get Hank III (firing up the Wreck of the Old ’97). Instead of Little Richard, you get Rev. Horton Heat (preaching the blues on Get Rhythm). And you get lesser-known but no less talented figures like Robbie Fulks (Cry, Cry, Cry), The MavericksRaul Malo (I Guess Things Happen That Way), Billy Burnette (Ring of Fire) and Redd Volkaert (whose rubbery, well-deep take on Luther Played the Boogie is worth the entire price of this disc).

Ultimately, Dressed in Black may have the trump card — a cameo by the Man in Black himself, who harmonizes with sis in-law Janette Carter on Meet Me in Heaven. But you’ll feel pretty close listening to either of these swell tributes.