Album revisits Johnny Cash’s ‘Bitter Tears’

Various Artists LOOK AGAIN TO THE WIND: JOHNNY CASH’S BITTER TEARS REVISITED

Throughout his career, Johnny Cash sang about the downtrodden, giving a voice to the voiceless. But his 1964 concept album, “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian,” started a new conversation about social awareness.

The collection of songs written by Cash and Peter La Farge provided strong commentary about the U.S. government’s mistreatment of Native Americans. Cash’s record label tried talking him out of releasing the album, fearing it would alienate his country music fan base, but his regard for speaking out against injustice was more important.

Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, The Milk Carton Kids and others transform Cash’s political statement into a rootsy collection in the new album, “Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited.”

Kristofferson handles the original album’s biggest track, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” with help from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Other standout performances include Harris taking on “Apache Tears,” a heartfelt version of “The Talking Leaves” with Nancy Blake supported by Harris, Welch and Rawlings, and Rhiannon Giddens’ haunting cover of “The Vanishing Race.”

The cover album also includes three additional tracks: reprises of “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” and “Apache Tears,” and a track left off the original called “Look Again to the Wind.”

John Carucci

The Associated Press

Ace Frehley SPACE INVADER

With seven-plus years of sobriety under his belt, the original KISS lead guitarist has recorded his best solo album since his groundbreaking self-titled album in 1978.

With walls of wailing guitars, droning feedback and snarling solos, Ace Frehley launches an old-school ’70s-style hard rock jam fest. It kicks off with him talk-singing his way through the title track, about a well-intentioned extraterrestrial who comes to save the Earth, and it includes a sudden tempo change for the guitar solo just like he did on “Snowblind” and “I’m In Need of Love” on his first solo record.

“Gimme A Feelin’” is a timeless rocker, with thick guitar chords, and “I Wanna Hold You” and “What Every Girl Wants” could be melodic hits.

On “Change” and “Inside the Vortex,” Frehley showcases some impressive growth as a songwriter and arranger, with complex chord progressions and melody lines.

The only weak track is a vanilla remake of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” that adds nothing to the plodding original, but apparently was too much for Frehley to resist with its “Space Cowboy” intro.

Wayne Parry The Associated Press

Various Artists NASHVILLE OUTLAWS: A TRIBUTE TO MOTLEY CRUE

Country artists have long paid tribute to rock acts compatible with country music, from the Eagles to Buddy Holly to country-loving British acts the Beatles and Rolling Stones. But a heavy metal act like Motley Crue? For anyone listening to the arena-rock crunch in country music in recent years, country covering the Crue isn’t a surprise at all.

What may be surprise, though, is how ferociously some of country’s more mild-mannered acts rise to the occasion. Rascal Flatts has never come close to rocking as hard as on its version of “Kickstart My Heart,” which rightly opens the album and sets the bar for others to match.

Florida Georgia Line pales in comparison with the formulaic “If I Die Tomorrow.” The same goes for Cassadee Pope, who went from rock to country after winning the third season of “The Voice,” but lacks authority on “The Animal In Me,” even with Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander as a duet partner.

Highlights include Justin Moore’s “Home Sweet Home,” with its Lynyrd Skynyrd-guitar tone and soulful vocals, The Mavericks using a Latin rhythm on “Dr. Feelgood” to bring out its dramatic story line, Eli Young Band’s sweetly melodic “Don’t Go Away Mad” and Lee Ann Rimes’ swinging “Smoking In The Boys Room.”

Michael McCall

The Associated Press