Ride This Train
Considered Johnny Cash’s first true concept album, Ride This Train uses the story of America’s railroads as a departure point for delving into a range of stories and characters. Mixing his original tunes with songs by Merle Travis, Red Foley, and Tex Ritter, Cash displays an actor’s dramatic skill as he binds the tracks together with spoken-word pieces. He finds poetry in the names of Indian tribes, recalls lost loves, and tells tales of human cruelty and valor. Along the way, he takes on an outlaw’s voice (“Slow Rider”), celebrates the logger’s rough life (“Lumberjack”), and offers a salute to a poor man and his music (“When Papa Played the Dobro”). Especially noteworthy is “Going to Memphis,” an adaptation of a traditional tune that finds Cash singing over the sound of clanking chains with bluesy fervor. In many ways, Ride This Train foreshadows the role of populist spokesman that Johnny Cash came to embody by the late ‘60s. On its own merits, the album is a substantial, thought-provoking work that speaks to Cash’s love of country as well as his musical ambition.