Already having been branded as a form of heresy in traditional county circles, the long-delayed Johnny Cash: Remixed album is plenty awful, but not solely for the fact that Snoop Dogg is attached to the project, as genre purists have claimed. The most successful remixes are those that take the elements that work best about a given track and place those elements into a context that either expands and comments on or subverts what made them interesting and effective in the first place. Johnny Cash’s catalogue certainly offers no shortage of such moments from which a contemporary producer can choose. But Remixed fails because so few of the remixers make smart choices, either with the elements of Cash’s original tracks that they use or with how they recast them into largely anonymous, uninspired 4/4 dance cuts.
Snoop Dogg and his QDT Muzik production team open the album horribly, with Snoop’s rap bouncing off the verses from “I Walk the Line” like a series of complete non sequiturs and with the production in a minor key that makes Cash’s unaltered vocal track sound off-pitch. Alabama 3’s treatment of “Leave That Junk Alone” plays as though the group simply dropped a few clips of the original song’s admonition to “drink water” directly into their theme song from The Sopranos, making for a remix that is both predictable and lazy. Troublemaker’s take on “Straight A’s In Love” does little more than put a tinny, industrial rhythm track that sounds like a badly-dated Nine Inch Nails track behind some clichéd electronic distortions of the entire original cut of the song, while Wolf’s heavy-handed production and too-fast tempo on “Rock Island Line” completely obscure the performance of one of Cash’s memorable recitation pieces. But even these misfires are better than Kennedy’s remix of “Sugartime,” which takes one of Cash’s most overtly ribald cuts and places it squarely in the “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”-aping production from boy band 5ive’s “Everybody Get Up.” These are all capable remixers, but their choices here are both inexplicable and ineffective.
In comparison to such train wrecks, Pete Rock’s “Folsom Prison Blues” comes across well, even if its use of that song’s iconic guitar figure is perhaps too obvious. But it’s Philip Steir’s “Get Rhythm,” which actually takes the song’s vocal hook as a dare to do something a bit more rhythmically adventurous than any of the project’s other producers, that truly illustrates how this project could have worked if it weren’t approached primarily as a novelty. The concept behind Remixed isn’t flawed: One of the key components of Cash’s legacy is that his music transcended straightforward genre labels, so the idea of remixing his material speaks to the creativity and groundbreaking imperatives that drove him throughout his career. Despite the talent of its roster of producers and a strong driving concept, the execution of these remixes simply isn’t going to impress fans of Cash’s brand of country or of cutting-edge dance music.