Review: The Johnny Cash Children's Album

Johnny Cash's most famous songs are his most tormented -- "I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die," sings the prisoner in his "Folsom Prison Blues" -- which means he's not exactly at the top of the list of artists who scream out "children's music" to the public. (We're still waiting for the Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins kids' CDs, too.) But contrary to the legend that surrounded the Man in Black, Cash never actually served time in prison and in 1975 Cash released the Johnny Cash Children's Album, a motley collection of kids-accessible tunes recorded in the early '70s. In 2006 Sony re-released the album for the first time on CD, with liner notes from Cash's son John Carter Cash and 4 bonus tracks. The 37-minute album, while retaining some of the trademark Cash sound (Cash's powerful voice is still there, the shuffling "freight train" instrumentals make occasional appearances), doesn't have a single track that a Johnny Cash fan would consider essential. In fact, one of the best tracks on the disk, "Little Green Fountain," is a brief and snappy a cappella duet with June Carter Cash that doesn't sound anything like his more famous work. "One and One Makes Two" is a sweet song about sharing one's time and love, while his cover of "Grandfather's Clock" is quite good. But for every decent track there's another track that's just plain weird. The odd bear-raising philosophy outlined in "Tiger Whitehead," the overly maudlin "Old Shep" (clearly "Old Yeller" didn't scan as well), the jokey spoken-word "Why Is A Fire Engine Red" -- none of them are worth more than a couple spins. Kids ages 3 through 7 will probably appreciate this album the most. But if you're a Johnny Cash fan and you want your kids to appreciate Cash, you're probably better off putting in your own "adult" disks. Whether or not you fast-forward past "Ring of Fire" is up to you.