Thursday, November 20, 2008


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Johnny Cash’s America is a great look at how the country shaped his songwriting and how Johnny Cash shaped America. The DVD is a documentary that takes you on the trip through some of these places and presents the thoughts of those that Cash had a major effect on, be it in their lives or on the music that some of them went on to create. From senators to other country artists and rap world icons, Cash hit a chord with them all. Here on this 88-minute disc we get to see and hear a bit of that along with the Johnny Cash story told in his own words as well as by those who knew and loved him best.

The DVD opens with a wonderful salute to the way that he would open his shows. Many of the people interviewed for this project say in their own way, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” and it works masterfully, setting the tone for the film and how it will run as the footage that rolls around them flashes images of the Man In Black at his peek. Saying hello are Ozzy Osbourne, Merle Haggard, and Snoop Dogg to name a few of those that gave their thoughts and stories to the cameras. These people of various backgrounds are what set this documentary apart from others that glance back on the life of Mr. Cash, born simply J.R. and dubbed “Johnny” while in the Air Force.

The documentary traces the life of Johnny Cash using old footage and interviews but we rarely see him giving these interviews; we hear them over images of the places he’d been, wrote, and sang about. What we do see laced throughout are the on-camera interviews with the people of the land that Cash had a major effect on. From the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas and death of his brother Jack at an early age, to his travels in the armed forces and around the world with his tours, we hear from the man himself how it was and how he was inspired to write his songs. And even though plagued by personnel demons, Cash never backed down from singing what he though was right.

Senator Lamar Alexander reminds us that Johnny Cash was always invited and welcomed at the White House by the Presidents; Al Gore also shares his thoughts and memories of Cash who never chose a political side but always stood for what he thought was worth fighting for. While family members give their versions of what life was like at different times in his life. Cash’s sister takes us back to the home that they knew as children as his son John Carter tags along and brings a new generation of Cashes to the land where the legend took root. Daughters Roseanne and Cindy reflect on how it felt when their father was home from the road in their youth and in later life and how his love for his wife June Carter fueled his everyday life to the end of hers and his.

Fellow outlaw country artists Haggard and Kris Kristofferson tell tales of wild, sober, and wise Cash as another American original. Bob Dylan lets us in on what it was like to work with him on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. We also hear from rapper Snoop Dogg about what his friends thought of his listening to Cash and how Snoop came to own his first Cash record. Snoop’s take is one of the highlights of this DVD as it’s always good to hear how Johnny Cash can make a connection to anybody anywhere by his simple music and lyrics of life, love, and devotion.

The companion CD is worth owning for the fact that it mirrors the DVD and contains some songs not found on other best-of CDs. It has the alternate and rare versions of a few key tunes used on the DVD. “Ride This Train” and “What Is Truth” are two examples of how Cash can give more of a talking-blues delivery as used in his “Singin’ In Vietnam Talkin’ Blues,” a true nod to his friend Bob Dylan. “I Am The Nation” is Cash performing spoken-word poetry and doing it well with a force that reaches beyond chest-thumping and hits home, making you smile as you think how much he loved his country and makes you feel the same way with his words and voice.

Other tunes on the CD do a good job in covering the many aspects of Cash’s music. His gospel side (“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord),” “Children Go Where I Send Thee”), songs inspired by the history of our nation (“Big Foot,” “Ragged Old Flag,” “All God’s Children Ain’t Free”) his early hits (“Big River,” “Folsom Prison Blues (Live at Folsom),” “Cry, Cry, Cry,”) and the latter-day reflective reworking of a Nine Inch Nails’ classic (“Hurt”). Overall a nice collection of songs for the casual fan while hardcore Cash fans will enjoy the unreleased takes.

Hannah Montana - The Complete First Season

Written by Guest Reviewer Jordan Richardson

As I sit here attempting to iron a Hannah Montana transfer on to my hooded sweatshirt, I’m reminded of my personal journey with Miley Cyrus and I start to wonder how it all came down to this. I first discovered Disney’s Hannah Montana juggernaut courtesy of my landlord’s kids. Curious, I checked it out one day and found myself unable to turn away.

The show was colorful, bright, and energetic. It also wasn't very good, brimming with the type of cheese that Disney loves to infuse family-friendly comedy with and utilizing every worn-out Full House format in the book. The setup-problem-solution-lesson foundation ran through each episode, but this time Bob Saget’s Danny Tanner was replaced with Billy Ray Cyrus’s Robby Stewart.

Then came July 2008 and I checked out Miley’s Breakout disc, fully expecting to hate it. I didn’t. Next month, in August, I reviewed Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3-D Concert Movie and once again I expected to hate it. And once again, I didn’t. What was happening to me?

Obviously Miley Cyrus has my number.

So with the third round bell echoing in my ears, I got in the ring with Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season 4-Disc Collector’s Set. Right smack dab in time for Christmas, this is one DVD set that will be finding itself under many trees. Most people aren’t on the fence about Hannah Montana and won’t need to be convinced to purchase (or avoid) this.

Produced by It’s a Laugh Productions in association with Disney, Hannah Montana is a television series with a basic premise and a ridiculous laugh track. Interestingly, the idea for Hannah Montana came about as the result of an episode of That’s So Raven. Before Cyrus was tapped for the role, pop singer JoJo was considered. After she turned it down, Cyrus (who had originally auditioned for the role of the “best friend”) was cast.

The show took to the air for the first time on March 24, 2006. The first season, comprised of 26 episodes, took over a year to air.

Cyrus stars as Miley Stewart. In Jem-like fashion, Miley is pop star Hannah Montana but has to keep her identity a secret. Her best friend, Lily Truscott (Emily Osment), soon discovers her distinctiveness (in the first episode, actually) and the two of them go through school and life with the secret between them.

Miley’s father, played by her real-life dad Billy Ray Cyrus, also works as Hannah’s moustache-wearing manager. Jason Earles plays Hannah’s brother, Jackson. The first season also features a number of guest stars, including the legendary Vicki Lawrence as Miley’s grandmother (“Grandma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Favorites"), Ashley Tisdale, and Dolly Parton as Miley’s godmother (“Good Golly, Miss Dolly”).

Along with all 26 episodes from the first season, the DVD set includes some “Backstage Disney” features. Miley Cyrus goes to the Cyrus Family Farm in Nashville, Tennessee in “Back Home Again With Miley”. It’s a cool feature that lets fans see another side of Hannah Montana. And “Hannah’s Highlights” offer some insight into Hannah/Miley’s favorite episodes with the odd pop-up.

As one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and as one of ForbesTop Twenty Superstar Earners Under 25, there’s no question that Miley Cyrus is taking the world by storm.

If you have tweens or youngsters, you probably already have this DVD set or you’re probably on your way to the store to pick up a copy. If you’re like me and you want to get an up-close look at the leader of a bizarre, sparkly cult bent on world domination, Hannah Montana – The Complete First Season is critical.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe my iron-on transfer is finished…