A celebration of the Man in Black from a unique perspective – first time on vinyl
When making a list of the greatest music biopics, Walk the Line is definitely near the top. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon dazzle as Johnny and June Carter Cash in this film from 2005. Now, Craft Recordings has made the movie’s soundtrack available on vinyl for the very first time.
Part of what makes the film work so well is director James Mangold’s decision to have the actors sing their parts, instead of lip synching to old Johnny Cash material. It certainly makes the movie more believable, and contributes to an intriguing soundtrack. In no way do these performances replace the classic originals, but they do make for a refreshing approach to the appreciation of Cash’s music.
The real star here is producer T-Bone Burnett, who helmed both Raising Sand, the surprise collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Cash’s early recordings had an eerie, other-worldly quality that Burnett is able to recreate – the tracks here are sparse, and haunting. He also enlists many musicians that played on Cash’s original songs, including Cowboy Jack Clement and Norman Blake. Roots rocker Peter Case lends guitar and harmonica to several tracks as well.
Burnett provides the perfect backdrop for the actors to succeed. Phoenix is especially good on “Get Rhythm,” channeling Cash’s deep, gravely delivery and humor, “Cocaine Blues,” where he captures the paranoia of the original, and “Home of the Blues,” where Phoenix masters Cash’s signature quiver in his voice.
Witherspoon encapsulates the wide-eyed innocence of June Carter on “Wildwood Flower,” but is a little too cartoonish for “Juke Box Blues.” Saving the best for last, Phoenix and Witherspoon nail Johnny & June’s duet on “Jackson,” (Witherspoon is especially great here).
The remainder of the soundtrack is augmented by some of the other cast members. Tyler Hilton turns in a couple of Elvis covers that are okay, but not memorable, and certainly not up there with the performances of the two lead actors.
This is an example of an album that actually sounds better on vinyl. The booming standup bass is warm and the slap back echo is crisp on this fine pressing. The inner sleeve gives you a rundown of the stellar cast that made this sound so great.
The soundtrack works best in creating a mood, so it makes for excellent background music. Performances played with an envious authenticity, Walk the Line is a great tribute to the essence of Johnny Cash. —Tony Peters