Release Date: Aug 19, 2014
Record label: Masterworks
Genre(s): Country, Folk, Americana, Contemporary Folk, Country-Folk
As the '60s became a time of deep socio-political change and upheaval in America, the country music establishment wasted little time establishing itself as the voice of the "silent majority" who wanted to live in a quietly conservative nation (as opposed to the loudly conservative point of view that would arise in Nashville in the '80s and onward). One exception to this was Johnny Cash, who was often moved to speak out in favor of justice for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. One of Cash's first and most powerful statements in favor of human rights was his 1964 album Bitter Tears, a song cycle that dealt with the way Native Americans had been wronged throughout United States history, and remarkably, one of its most powerful songs actually became a hit single -- "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," drawn from the true story of the Pima Indian soldier who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II, only to face brutal racism and succumb to alcoholism after returning home.
Tribute albums frequently betray their subject, but not this homage to Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears, the country giant’s 1964 salute to Native Americans. A concept album about a discomfiting cause – the US’s treatment of its indigenous people – Tears was a radical statement resisted, to Cash’s fury, by the Nashville establishment. For its 50th anniversary, producer Joe Henry gathers a stellar house band that takes turns to lead.
Johnny Cash was obviously more than a musical icon. He was a pioneer, a crusader, an outlaw, and a man wholly devoted to the cause of freedom, both for himself and for those underserved by society. In 1964, that mostly meant African Americans. But Cash had a larger vision for humanity, that of the need to recognize the indignities and injustices inflicted on Native Americans.