Album: Walk the Line: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Walk the Line: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Artist: T-Bone Burnett
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Label: Wind-Up

This is not a review about Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon’s hair. However—as any self-respecting fan knows—in country music, after proving you can pluck a guitar and carry a tune, the power of the right hairstyle is not to be underestimated. Johnny Cash, in fact, was famously vain about his locks—perhaps one of the few things he was vain about—and many a guitar store employee can attest to the fact that when the Man in Black came in to buy his special brand of guitar pick, his hair was dyed a jet black more often seen on a boy of 20 than a man of…

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This is not a review about Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon’s hair. However—as any self-respecting fan knows—in country music, after proving you can pluck a guitar and carry a tune, the power of the right hairstyle is not to be underestimated. Johnny Cash, in fact, was famously vain about his locks—perhaps one of the few things he was vain about—and many a guitar store employee can attest to the fact that when the Man in Black came in to buy his special brand of guitar pick, his hair was dyed a jet black more often seen on a boy of 20 than a man of 60. In any case, Phoenix and Witherspoon’s performances as Johnny and June Carter Cash succeed more in the style and hair department than in their musicality. Phoenix fares better than his co-star in reinventing the Cash mystique, and his sweet, almost earnest interpretation of “Get Rhythm” is as charming as it is honest. Unfortunately, the powerful song “Ring of Fire” is flat and wholly without the narrative pull it had when Cash sang it. And Witherspoon is simply not up to the warbling task she’s faced with in singing as June Carter Cash. (To be fair, it’s hard to know who would be, but the estimable Loretta Lynn or Tift Merritt would have had better luck). Carter Cash’s honeyed gift with melody, and the largeness of her voice, honed over decades in live performance, is hard to replicate for even a seasoned singer, and predictably, Witherspoon falls short of the mark. It’s certainly seductive to imagine that playing a figure as compelling as Johnny or June would allow an actor to channel the soul and some of the talent of the artist, but the closest this record comes is in “Cry, Cry, Cry,” where Phoenix’s gravelly voice offers the same sustained thrill that made Johnny Cash irresistible—to June and his fans. —Megan Halverson

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Film:Walk the Line

Walk the Line

James Mangold

A solid and entertaining biopic, Walk the Line works less as a movie than an actors’ showcase for its stars. Joaquin Phoenix’s total immersion into the skin of singer Johnny Cash is startling—watching it, you can’t believe this is the same guy who whined about being “vexed” in Gladiator. As he evolves from a farm boy to gospel croonin’ plunker to the Man in Black, Phoenix disappears into Cash’s deep baritone, his way of slinging the guitar onto his back, and his hunched-up style of strumming. But it’s more than just picking up mannerisms: Phoenix…

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