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Wednesday, 07 June 2006 00:00

Recommended diversions

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As in old school phonograph records, not world records or dental records. After collecting thousands of CDs over the last 15 years, I have fallen in love with records again. Whenever I get a chance to listen to the stereo these days, I spend about 90 percent of my listening time playing them.

Even with the occasional ticks and pops — some have likened the surface noise of worn records to the sound of bacon frying, or firecrackers going off — I still prefer the sound of vinyl over CDs. I have a record-cleaning machine that eliminates most of the surface noise on all but the most worn out records. I also love finding great deals on old records — great records for a dollar or two on eBay, in IWanna, at garage sales or flea markets, or wherever the scavenger hunt takes me. My latest find was a trio of John Coltrane records, one in mint condition and the other two in near mint for less than 15 bucks total. If you are out there reading this and have a box of old records sitting around in your attic collecting dust, you should call or write. I’ll invite you over. We’ll clean them off and spend the afternoon listening to music as the good Lord intended — on vinyl. Or I’ll trade you some nice CDs for them.

“Walk the Line”

With two small kids demanding most of the spare time I have, I rarely get an opportunity to catch up on movies until they are released on video and Netflix can deliver them on my doorstep. We finally got around to this one, and I must say that it is superb in every way. Reese Witherspoon is very good as June Carter Cash, and while I do not begrudge her Oscar, it is no less ridiculous that she won and Joaquin Phoenix — who channels Johnny Cash, who IS Johnny Cash — did not. Phoenix’s performance is not just good — it is scary. He not only has Cash’s deep, gravel road voice down. He has the mannerisms down too. Cash’s stance on stage, the way he held his guitar, the way he approached the microphone, his little nods and quirks, all of it. The only possible explanations for Phoenix not winning the Oscar would be an even better performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote” (which we’ll see this weekend) or Jamie Foxx’s win last year in “Ray,” a similar movie in many respects. Perhaps the Academy felt the movies were too similar. That is too bad, because Phoenix does as much justice to Cash as Foxx did to Ray Charles. See it and you’ll believe it.

Johnny Cash, The Sun Singles, American Music, Volumes I-IV

In some ways, these collections are like bookends to Cash’s amazing life, a testament to both his influence on American music and the music’s influence on him. There are many versions and collections of Cash’s recordings for Sam Phillips and his legendary Sun label. Any of them should suffice, but be sure to get at least a two-CD collection so you don’t miss out on the buried treasures among the familiar songs: “Katy Too,” “Straight A’s in Love,” “Rock Island Line,” and more. The American Music albums, recorded very near the end of Cash’s life, are a revelation. Cash sings songs he likes (and lots of them) from Neil Young to U2 to Bob Marley to the gospel songs he loved as a child. Although you can clearly hear the ravages of the years in his voice, the setting and production are so intimate and personal that it’s as if Cash is in the room with you. The frame of reference is Verve-era Billie Holiday, voice nearly wrecked, but singing with so much heart.

— By Chris Cox

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