Maybe my memory is hazy regarding Walk the Line, the 2005 film which starred Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. When the offer to review this LP came in, I was kind of excited. After a couple of tracks, however, I remembered why the soundtrack was no longer in my iTunes, and that I might not have forgotten the songs if psychically tamped down into the depths of my subconscious.
The music is actually pretty solid. Producer T Bone Burnett knows his musicians, and even went so far as to get Sun Records’ writer, producer, and engineer Jack Clement to play guitar on a bunch of the Cash tunes in order to give them a further sense of authenticity. Norman Blake — who was part of Cash’s band off and on for 40 years — also plays on many of those same tracks, so again, the music is solid.
The singing, though? Yikes. It’s not terrible, and it kind of works in the film when you’re only hearing around 30 seconds at a time (and the director can pick and choose which line, verse, or chorus they want to use), but the full songs by Phoenix and Witherspoon just don’t hold up. At best, they’re dinner theater musical quality, but for the most part, the level of singing is about as good as Tuesday evening karaoke at your local bar. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” is a tinny, weak mess that I would really prefer to never hear again.
The covers by performers other than Walk the Line’s leads fare better than the Cash and Carter songs — maybe because the performers on those tracks are professional singers. Either way, they open up a bit more and have a definite sense of being a bit bigger than the rather calmer star cuts. Tyler Hilton’s Elvis Presley performances are pretty solid, but it’s Shooter Jennings’ version of his father Waylon’s “I’m A Long Way From Home” that’s the album’s highlight.
The album sounds pretty good. There’s a nice middle level to everything here, and it actually has a nice vintage feel. It’s maybe not as warm as you’d hope for a bunch of ‘50s rockabilly and country covers, but better clean than murky.
Walk the Line is pressed on black vinyl, and the jacket artwork is pretty much identical to the compact disc version. I do love that album cover, as well as the back of the jacket. It does look really nice, and for those who enjoyed the movie, this will make for a nice addition to your collection. There’s a printed inner sleeve with a breakdown of who played on which track, which is pretty cool, because you find out things like Mark Ribot played electric guitar on Tyler Hilton’s version of “Milk Cow Blues.”
“Walk the Line” is available on vinyl from Craft Recordings.