Between the years of 1970 and 1973, Johnny Cash quit drugs and alcohol, started a massively popular TV show on the ABC network, met with Richard Nixon, and recorded a number of children's songs. Columbia Records has since remastered and re-released Johnny Cash's Children's Album (now for the first time on CD), the strange and beautiful document of a family-friendly, transitional period in the Man in Black's life. Those who were children during the album's initial 1975 release will enjoy this remastered disc, which should spark a wave of nostalgia. Those who have never heard the album — or those who have just heard Cash's more typical fare — will be thoroughly surprised. While most listeners will lose interest in these Sesame Street-esque sing-a-longs, the album will reward those twentysomething college types whose interest in Cash has recently been sparked by an award-winning film and a wave of album re-releases and official "bootlegs," this record included.
The latter audience, of course, will find many of these songs funny, and, if anything, deeply ironic. In light of Cash's usually somber or painful tone, as well as his heartbreaking death, the Children's Album is a bizarrely joyous document of the "real" J.R. Cash, one who loved children and loved life. Son John Carter Cash speaks of his father in this same way, and writes in the album's liner notes that Cash took the entire third and second grades of his school to see Chris Reeves' Superman when it was released. John's story perfectly sets the mood and humor of this atypical Cash album; it is not your dad's Johnny Cash.
An embarrassing silliness is present in almost all of these songs, but so is the feeling that Cash is having a genuinely good time with the new material. He and his just-as-famous wife June Carter sing about their son on "I Got a Boy and His Name is John," and a chorus of children join Cash's grizzled vocals on "Little Green Fountain." The best songs, however, are the ones that utilize Cash's satirical Old West brand of humor, most notably on "Nasty Dan." The lyrics ("Nasty Dan / He's a nasty man / Hard to understand / That Naaasty Dan") are unmistakably Cash, but they are somehow subdued, carefully and humorously pruned for the younger audience.