The Mighty Cash Cats’ new release, “The Ballad of Johnny and June,” tackles the songs of Johnny Cash and June Carter along with other country stars such as Carl Perkins and Merle Travis with a flair for rockabilly and country.
Johnny Cash and June Carter are one of the most iconic duos in music history and singer/guitarist Michael J. Smith and singer/bassist Leticia Blumette couldn’t have picked two more worthy musicians to cover. They were at the forefront of country music in the 1950s and ’60s and went on to set a new standard in music songwriting.
Smith and Blumette are rounded out by Oliver Thin on guitar and Larry Anderson on drums, whose even-keeled rhythm section looks to replicate the picking of Cash’s band, The Tennessee Three. On the song “Sixteen Tons,” the group is also joined by Jimmy Calire on the piano and B3 Hammond Organ.
The Mighty Cash Cats obviously have a love for this period of music. Most of the songs on the album have the clip-clop beat of old country songs with steady rhythm work and pretty harmonies from Smith and Blumette. Even Bob Dylan’s rousing “It Ain’t Me Babe” is given a countrified makeover.
However, when a band makes a cover album they are automatically setting themselves up for comparisons to the original material. The Mighty Cash Cats do not fare well in this department as its renditions of these old Cash and country tunes just fall flat. “Ring of Fire” is a standard cover with no real swing to it and the Tim Hardin folk song “If I Were A Carpenter” lightly tugs you through its verses, never demanding your full attention. The songs lack any of the energy or heart that made these songs great and the instrumentation and arrangements are plain and sterile.
If you are going to do a whole album of cover songs you need to bring something new to the table and The Mighty Cash Cats do no such thing on “The Ballad of Johnny and June.”