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Review: Kristofferson, Harris, others cover Johnny Cash's controversial album 'Bitter Tears'

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NEW YORK — Various Artists, "Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited" (Sony Masterworks)

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."

PHOTO: This CD cover image released by Sony Masterworks shows "Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited," a release performed by various artists. (AP Photo/Sony Masterworks )
This CD cover image released by Sony Masterworks shows "Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited," a release performed by various artists. (AP Photo/Sony Masterworks )

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."


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