Do my eyes deceive? What the hell is The Man in Black doing on this record cover, bathed in Cybill Shepherd lighting, sniffing flowers and smiling like a choirboy? What happened to "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?" Ah, the late '60s did funny things to everyone, it seems.There is certainly a compelling argument to be made for Johnny Cash, Artist of Substance, and Columbia's recent slew of reissues in conjunction with his 70th birthday goes a long ways toward reminding us of that. But--damn!--this 1967 album goes straight into the oddity file. It's a throwaway, a crossover into the kind of dippiness that Nancy Sinatra made famous.
Pardon Johnny and June for their giddy streak but they were in love. They'd be married in less than a year, right after Johnny could free himself from the clutches of his first wife. On songs like "Shantytown," the lovebirds harmonize, they chatter, they do schtick. "I live down in Shantytown where chicken's 20 cents a pound," they sing, perhaps whilst feeding each other fresh fruit in a garden of delight.
When Johnny calls June a "big-mouth woman," she growls real soulful-like and calls him a "long-legged guitar pickin' man." Not really the greatest comeback, but whatever. On "Jackson," the hit, they both make lots of not-so-veiled references to Johnny banging hookers.
Then, a mariachi band breaks into the studio and strikes up a strangely karaoke-esque version of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe." Johnny knocks back a few drinks and when he comes to, he's sitting in front of a microphone trying to decipher encrypted sheet music for not one but two Ray Charles covers.
While he staggers through another take of "What'd I Say," a curious William Shatner sits in the next room, pressing an ear to the cold wall and dreaming of a day when he can cut an album of his own.