CD Review of Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash by Various Artists:

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Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Dualtone
Released: 2007
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Paying tribute to an artist who’s leaped in status from legend to full-fledged icon over the years is a rough task, and while June Carter Cash might not qualify as an icon at the same level as her late husband, Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of her in “Walk the Line” coupled with a lifetime of songwriting accomplishments comfortably earns her such standing. The fact that Anchored in Love – which was produced by John Carter Cash – is clearly a labor of love, however, helps it immeasurably.

The album is a blend of star power, close friends, and country legends, some succeeding more admirably with their tributes to June than others -- and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the legends that have the best track record. Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris both do a wonderful job of channeling June’s vocal style on “Wildwood Flower” and “Song to John,” respectively, and Billy Joe Shaver’s gravely vocals are well-suited to the “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” but upon hearing Ralph Stanley sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” you’ll know you’re experiencing the perfect match of artist and song. Of the current country crop, Brad Paisley does a fine job of illuminating the proceedings with his version of “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is that, even though it’s been covered countless times, “Ring of Fire” still manages to stand out as a highlight, thanks to being wrapped around Elvis Costello’s familiar voice.

But, then, there’s Billy Bob Thornton’s “Road to Kaintuck.” God love the guy for his film work, but can’t someone keep him away from tribute albums? To be fair, Billy Bob isn’t the only one dragging down the rating. Teaming Patty Loveless and Kris Kristofferson on “Far Side Banks of Jordan” isn’t the best move; Loveless’s sweet singing contrasts poorly when put beside Kristofferson’s whiskey-soaked gargle. Additionally, Grey de Lisle’s breathy vocal style on “Big Yellow Peaches” causes the song to turn inappropriately melodramatic.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the collection, however, is the decision to extend the song inclusions beyond June’s compositions and into songs that she and her husband made famous. Not that it isn’t nice to hear Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson duet on “If I Were a Carpenter,” or to bear witness to Carlene Carter’s grand return to music by singing her mother’s part on “Jackson” (Ronnie Dunn, of Brooks & Dunn, takes Johnny’s role), but given how many great songs June wrote in her time, a more appropriate tribute would be to focus exclusively on that aspect of her career.

~Will Harris