“Ride This Train” by Johnny Cash 1960 Columbia

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“Ride This Train” by Johnny Cash 1960 Columbia
“Ride This Train” by Johnny Cash 1960 Columbia
Ride This Train is the eighth album by country singer Johnny Cash. It was originally released in September 1960 and re-issued on March 19, 2002, with four bonus tracks.
It is considered to be Cash’s first concept album. The album is billed as a “travelogue”, with Cash providing spoken narration before each song to give context, in several cases playing historical characters, such as John Wesley Hardin, and describing different destinations around the United States visited by train. The songs themselves are not generally railroad-themed.
The original album was included on the Bear Family box set Come Along and Ride This Train. The success of this LP inspired his first label, Sun, to release the compilation LP, All Aboard the Blue Train which consisted of previously released “train” inspired songs, including his hit, “Folsom Prison Blues“.
Track listing

No. Title Writer(s) Length

1. “Loading Coal”   Merle Travis 4:58
2. “Slow Rider”   Johnny Cash 4:12
3. “Lumberjack”   Leon Payne 3:02
4. “Dorraine Of Ponchartrain”   Cash 4:47
5. “Going To Memphis”   Cash, Hollie Dew, Alan Lomax 4:26
6. “When Papa Played The Dobro”   Cash 2:55
7. “Boss Jack”   Tex Ritter 3:50
8. “Old Doc Brown”   Red Foley 4:10
9. “The Fable Of Willie Brown”   Cash 1:57
10. “Second Honeymoon”   Autry Inman 1:57
11. “Ballad Of The Harp Weaver”   Thelma Moore, Edna Millay 3:50
12. “Smiling Bill McCall”   Cash 2:06

In October 1967 Johnny Cash was huddled deep inside the cold dark Nickajack Cave waiting to die. The Man in Black had spent 10 years in a hellish cycle of addiction and self-mortification, and he wanted to formalize his separation from God by crawling as far into the cave as he could, waiting for death to overtake him without God as witness. His wanted the thick, sinister intestine of his country to digest him finally, to dissolve him away. It didn’t work. His arrogance was rebuked by his faith, and he started scraping and crawling, crablike, until he staggered out of the cave hours later exhausted and confused. Soon after that he had his own hit television show.
From the moment he took his first Benzedrine tablet in 1957 until his attempted suicide in Nickajack Cave 10 years later, Johnny Cash’s musical output was more fertile and prolific than at any other period in his career. The artistic liberation given by Don Law (who lured him to Columbia Records with promises of freedom and money), as well as his new friendships with the Carter Family, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and others seem to have sparked something in him that continued to crackle and flash even despite his new wealth and new addictions. So, in honor of Cash’s 70th birthday this year, Columbia Records is continuing with its excellent series of Cash reissues, and the latest batch chronicles this period, from his Columbia debut in 1958 until his classic duets with June Carter nine years later. All five albums are excellent, and the newly remastered discs are generously dosed with bonus tracks and incisive liner notes. I suspect most other labels would have served us a septuagenarian stew, a hodgepodge of compilations or tributes, so Columbia should be commended for favoring tidy authenticity over jumbled carpetbagging in celebrating the man’s eighth decade among us.
“Ride This Train” by Johnny Cash 1960 Columbia
Inspired by his friend Merle Travis (whose Down Home is often regarded the first country concept album), Cash recorded the image-defining Ride This Train in 1960 and hasn’t stopped making his own great concept albums since. Contrary to what you’d expect, the album is not about trains. Instead it uses the train as transport—complete with sound effects—to take the listener on a tour of America, through space and time. His narration between songs, never drowned out by the loud trains behind him, is often as absorbing as the songs themselves.
Beginning with an amazing recitation of Native American tribe names, he then launches into the Merle Travis shovel-rhythm “Loading Coal” (written especially for the album), which creaks and groans with Cash’s authority. He takes on the voice of John Wesley Hardin in his own “Slow Rider”, then takes a tough turn through the Oregon timber in “Lumberjack” (the punch line: “Boy, ask a whistle pump. / I don’t know”). Other highlights include Tex Ritter’s “Boss Jack” (in which Cash takes on the voice of both slave and master in his hometown of Dyess, Arkansas), the naked tragedy “Dorraine of Ponchartrain”, and the nostalgic “When Papa Played the Dobro”.
The standout track, however, is “Going to Memphis” (“arranged and adapted by A. Lomax”), which gets real funky with chain-gang rhythm and one of the coolest vocal performances in Cash’s career (“Like a bitter weed, I’m a bad seed . . .”). Bonus tracks include Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Ballad of the Harpweaver”, the uncharacteristic sob story “Second Honeymoon” (“I’m alone on a second honeymoon”), and the minor novelty hit “Smiling Bill McCall” (a droll Nashville in-joke about hair loss). It’s a wonderful trip, and even if you’re riding blind between the baggage car and the mail car, even if you’re sprinting away from the railroad Pinkertons on your tail, these songs and narrations will stick to your ribs. Hell, Cash later even included a “Ride This Train” segment on his late ‘60s variety show which also detailed the struggles, tragedies, and comedies of working men and women in America.
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