Johnny Cash – Christmas with Johnny Cash Legacy CK 90701 (2003)
Christmas recordings predominately fall into three categories: novelty (The Chipmunks, The Ventures, Jingle Cats), smooth crooning (Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Nat “King” Cole), and solemn/devout (Mahalia Jackson, John Fahey). Far and away, most christmas music that receives radio airplay is of the novelty or crooning varieties (including more contemporary pop varieties of crooning). The solemn and devout material gets its due, but tends to have more private audiences. Johnny Cash doesn’t fit any of those categories. But he did record for a major label and it is axiomatic that long-term major label acts (unless obviously of a different religion) will record christmas music. There is nothing overtly “wrong” with Cash’s treatments of christmas warhorses like “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” but they don’t suit him. His voice — iconic though it was — wasn’t sweetly smooth and velvety like a good crooner. He did do novelty music, but with too much of a rural “aw shucks” kick to it for the peppy, sprightly style of most novelty christmas music. Cash was a christian, and it was often his Achilles heel by allowing him to coast on inferior performances that recycled stock protestant religiosity. This collection places him somewhere in between crooning and solemn music. It’s an awkward place. Nothing goes seriously awry. Yet, nothing ever clicks either. He’s going through the motions and there are no compelling reasons to go along for the ride.