Tribute records are a mixed bag by nature, but Anchored in Love is a wonderful collection of songs dedicated to June Carter Cash, several of them written by the country icon as well. Featuring country, bluegrass, and pop heavyweights like Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Ralph Stanley, and Patty Loveless, this set was produced by John Carter Cash, the son of June and third husband Johnny Cash. Cooler still, most of the tracks were recorded at the Cash Cabin, the family’s home studio in Henderson, Tennessee.
The younger Cash wisely chose to play the album straight, not glossing up the tracks with modern reinterpretations of his mother’s music. Instead, these versions are straight-up country, featuring quiet arrangements and easy interplay between the acoustic guitars, mandos and fiddles.
Right off the bat, the CD kicks off with two strong covers, starting with Willie Nelson’s duet with Sheryl Crow on “If I Were a Carpenter.” Willie’s voice is totally commanding and sets a reverent tone for the rest of the album. Next up is the seriously rockin’ “Jackson” by daughter Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn. There are twanging Teles and pedal-steel guitars aplenty, and these singers whip up a hellacious good time.
The timeless “Wildwood Flower” – the signature song of June’s mother Maybelle Carter – is lovingly sang by Loretta Lynn over a sweet acoustic guitar and mandolin backdrop. And fingerstylists will enjoy the superb Travis picking of Brad Paisley on “Keep on the Sunny Side.”
The only song that falls flat is Elvis Costello’s take on “Ring of Fire.” Unlike the rollicking Johnny Cash version, Elvis refers to June’s softer ballad with autoharp accompaniment. While a fine singer, Costello’s soaring voice seems more suited to Roy Orbison pop than classic country and seems oddly out of place here. Still, don’t let that stop you from grabbing this truly fine CD. Anchored in Love elegantly celebrates the understated charisma of June Carter Cash – something that often got lost in the shadows of her famous husband.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jul. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.