Ragged Old Flag

Ragged Old Flag

by Johnny Cash
     
 

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The reissue of Johnny Cash's underrated 1974 album, Ragged Old Flag, restores to print a powerful collection of American folk songs, all of them penned by the Man in Black. In his liner notes Cash describes these songs as "some of my most profound, passing thoughts." It's hard to argue with him; the attention to every detail of utter dejection in "Lonesome to

Overview

The reissue of Johnny Cash's underrated 1974 album, Ragged Old Flag, restores to print a powerful collection of American folk songs, all of them penned by the Man in Black. In his liner notes Cash describes these songs as "some of my most profound, passing thoughts." It's hard to argue with him; the attention to every detail of utter dejection in "Lonesome to the Bone" stands as one of the most moving descriptions of heartbreak any artist has set to song. "Good Morning Friend" celebrates spiritual rebirth, with the Oak Ridge Boys supplying an expressive gospel quartet response to Cash's call while Chuck Cochran rocks away on holy-roller piano. Cash's signature shuffle, augmented by guitarist Carl Perkins's robust chording and double-string solos, conjures up the trucker's simultaneous exhilaration and tedium in the big-rig classic "All I Ever Do Is Drive." The futility and violence of the workingman's life is plumbed in "King of the Hill," which suggests that working in "the Harlan mine" is preferable to picking cotton, as long as you have a good woman, "do to them before they do to you," and "trust in luck till your luck is gone." As exit strategies go, this one is terminally bleak. The one song here that's ripe for updating is the title track, which caused a stir when it was originally released in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Recorded live at a Columbia Records convention, and narrated to the muted, heart-tugging strains of "Across the Wide Missouri," "Ragged Old Flag" tells the tale of the battered, weathered flag on display in a small town's courthouse square. It's been in every conflict from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam and has withstood all manner of domestic assault (including, in a topical reference, one in which "the government for which she stands is scandalized throughout the land"), symbolizing the spirit of the free land its citizens have fought for. Given the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath, "Ragged Old Flag" is ready for a rehearing. Ditto for this entire disc, a lost gem polished up for anyone needing a bracing jolt of raw-boned Americana.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Richie Unterberger
It's a little hard to recover from the over-the-top patriotism of the opening title cut on this mid-'70s release, with its overbearing spoken narrative and shamelessly melodramatic orchestral production. Actually, however, that song is not typical of this release, which otherwise finds Cash backed only by the Tennessee Three (Carl Perkins, Larry McCoy, and Ray Edenton), with the Oak Ridge Boys singing backup on a couple of tracks. "Don't Go Near the Water" is, in contrast to the title song, rather radical for a country singer in its ecological protest, with its chorus: "Don't go near the water children/See the fish all dead upon the shore/Don't go near the water/'Cause the water isn't water anymore." The rest of the album is agreeable low-key Cash country, though with something of a more-of-the-same feeling that makes it a middle-of-the-pack Cash release at best; "All I Do Is Drive" sounds like a hybrid of old Sun singles like "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Big River," for instance. The songs go over familiar Cash territory like drifting, loneliness, and the struggle to keep your head above water. But none of them rate among his best, though "Please Don't Let Me Out" puts a twist on his prison stories by taking the viewpoint of a prisoner who wants to stay put as he now considers jail his home.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/01/2008
Label:
Sbme Special Mkts.
UPC:
0886972497822
catalogNumber:
724978
Rank:
9401

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