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The Essential John & June
on October 15, 2009
This excellent collection is, amazingly, the very first "best of" collection of the legendary country duet Johnny Cash and June Carter. Spanning the years 1964 to 1980, the album features seven of their eight singles (curiously missing "If I Had a Hammer") as well as many rare duet tracks from Cash solo albums. Although the couple sang together for 35 years, they actually recorded surprisingly few songs together despite being one of country music's most popular and famous duets. The songs are (with noting of chart peak of the actual hits)
1. It Ain't Me Babe(#4)
2. Jackson (#2, Grammy winning performance)
3. Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man (#6)
4. Oh What A Good Thing We Had
5. Darlin' Companion
6. If I Were a Carpenter (#2, Grammy winning performance)
7. 'Cause I Love You
8. The Loving Gift (#27)
9. Help Me Make it Through the Night
10. The Pine Tree
11. No Need to Worry (#15)
12. Old Time Feeling (#26)
13. One Way Rider
14. Brand New Dance
15. Far Side Banks of Jordan
16. It Takes One to Know One
Songwriters whose works are performed include Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Edd Wheeler, Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, Carlene Carter, and Johnny and June themselves.
This is true blue mainstream country music, not rock n'roll, not folk, and the Cashs are masters of the art. Their Grammy-winning classics "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter" are naturally here as the hilariously sassy "Long Legged Guitar Pickin' Man". They do a fine cover of "Help Me Make it Through the Night" turning that song about sex into a song about love and co-wrote the bittersweet saga of faded love in "Oh, What a Good Thing We Had". This collection shows a quite versatile team going from hilarious comic numbers to unforgettable sagas of love and memories.
All of the performances are fine but the jewel of the collection is the deeply moving "The Loving Gift" by Kristofferson. This delicate tender song is about as fine an example of a perfect country love song as you can find and I believe it's the best thing the duo ever did. It had the misfortunate of being released as a single when lurid sex songs like "You've Never Been This Far Before" were the rage on country radio and this tale of true love didn't quite fit in and was only a minor hit for them but it's a musical masterpiece.
The duets with June were the Man in Black's ventures into Technicolor, love, and beauty. Johnny Cash always seems far happier when June was by his side (check out that beaming cover photo). Their love is all over the performances here.