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Beavis & Butt-head Do AmericaOriginal Motion Picture...

CD REVIEWS

November 14, 1996|By J.D. Considine

That Johnny Cash went into the studio with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to record tunes by Beck, Soundgarden and Spain may make "Unchained" seem like a generation-crossover novelty along the lines of Tony Bennett's "MTV Unplugged." But it doesn't sound like one. In fact, what it sounds like is the same sort of hard-edged country music Cash made when he first started recording for Sun Records. "Country Boy," for instance, hurtles along on the strength of a rockabilly arrangement not that different from the one that powered "Get Rhythm," while "Mean Eyed Cat" is as gone as anything those Sun cats cut in the '50s. Even better than the way he recaptures his rockabilly roots, though, is the stylistic breadth Cash brings to the album's gospel tunes. So Spain's "Spiritual" walks the line between Memphis blues and the high-lonesome sound of bluegrass, while the Carter Family's "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea" owes as much to the hoedown as to the revival tent. Of course, what alternarockers will most want to hear is how Cash reconfigures Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" as folk rock (imagine Bob Dylan doing Bo Diddley, and you'll get an idea), but the best remade rocker on the album is Petty's "Southern Accents," which conveys a dignity and weariness only hinted at in the original. A truly awesome collaboration.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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