First thing to say here is that Look Again To The Wind is a perfect Christmas present for anyone who has any interest in American country music. Like the soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou it’s crammed full of excellent songs, excellently played by some of the best artists around. As a concept it’s interesting, as an album it’s little short of magnificent.
The album is a recreation of Johnny Cash‘s 1964 LP, Bitter Tears: Ballads of The American Indian. The original shows Cash at the cutting edge of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights act was published that year in response to coloured Americans battles against segregation but Native American Indians were still primarily seen as fodder for John Wayne’s cavalry. Cash set out to highlight their cause although it’s not a political set as such. With five tracks penned by Peter La Farge, two by Cash himself and one by Johnny Horton (writer of The Battle Of New Orleans) it celebrates a culture while highlighting injustice such as on its most famous song, The Ballad Of Ira Hayes or the dangers of miscegenation as on White Girl.
Look Again To The Wind was produced by Joe Henry who picked the artists for the album, in particular Gillian Welch and David Rawlings who appear on several of the songs. Norman Blake, who played on the original, contributes as does his wife Nancy while Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, The Milk Carton Kids and Rhiannon Giddens (of The Carolina Chocolate Drops) all perform. As such the delivery is impeccable, the songs transformed from the rough-hewn Cash originals into intricate tapestries with hints of bluegrass and country. Kristofferson towers on Ira Hayes while Earle offers a fine talking blues dissection of Custer. Nancy Blake, Emmylou Harris and Welch are delightful on The Talking Leaves while Giddens wails wonderfully on The Vanishing Race. The highlight however is the nine minute version of the opening title song of the original LP by Welch and Rawlings which opens here and almost spoils the album as it begs to be repeated as soon as it’s ended.
The track list follows the original with three exceptions. Apache Tears and As Long As The Grass Shall grow are reprised towards the end while another of Lafarge’s Native American songs, Look Again To The Wind, not featured on the original, is sung by Native American Bill Miller, a valedictorian statement that closes the album on a poignant note.
you can hear Gillian Welch and David Rawlings sing As Long As The Grass Shall Grow here