Monday, January 23, 2012

Standards: We'll Meet Again

Johnny Cash: We'll Meet Again


"We'll Meet Again" is a song hope in times of trouble. A mega-hit in England at the dawn of World War II, the song was popularized by Vera Lynn, who is still alive and kicking at age 94. (In 2009, Dame Vera Lynn's "Best of" CD reached #1 on the British charts, making her the oldest person to achieve that distinction.) The song captured the national mood, helping Britons keep stiff upper lips as their soldiers headed off to battle and uncertain fates.

A quarter century later, "We'll Meet Again" was played for laughs in Dr. Strangelove, a tone that was echoed in what to many sounded like a tongue-in-cheek cover by the Byrds. But, to me, the most memorable version is the one on Johnny Cash's American IV - The Man Comes Around. Released in late 2002, American IV is the final album of new material issued during Cash's lifetime, and "We'll Meet Again" is the final track.

It's a fitting sign off; Cash was in ill health and repeated in interviews that his time was short and that he was looking forward to the afterlife. As a Johnny Cash fan from childhood, the song sent chills down my spine when I first heard it (even more so than "Hurt," whose companion video also foretold of Cash's demise). On "We'll Meet Again," Cash's voice is wobbly, but the instrumentation is surprisingly breezy. The opening guitar run by Thom Bresh (son of Cash's longtime friend Merle Travis) borrows from "Happy Trails to You." An uncharacteristic (for Cash) clarinet and Hawaiian-style dobro create the image of the singer sailing off into the sunset. Family and friends seem to be waving goodbye as they join in on the closing chorus. June Carter Cash can be heard in the crowd -- she would die less than six months after the record's release, with her husband joining her just a few months later.

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