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With the steady churn of the Tennessee Two behind him, Cash introduced his unmistakable pared-down sound with these 18 late-1950s tracks. Cash's stark lyrics and dark baritone find sympathetic support from Luther Perkins' bare-boned twang and his own persistent strumming. "Folsom Prison Blues," "Hey Porter," and "Big River" show Cash's ability to build vivid imagery with simple lyrics. "I Walk the Line" and "Give My Love to Rose" exemplify his direct emotional appeal. Though his work and his sound remained consistent throughout his career, this compilation is the one to get if you want a one-disc introduction. It serves as both a collection of hits and an ideal demonstration of his minimalist style. --Marc Greilsamer
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"Folsom Prison Blues" was set up in the film as Cash's first hit for Sun, but in fact when Cash came back to show Phillips that he could do more than gospel what he really played was "Hey Porter," which was released with "Cry, Cry, Cry" on the flip side and made #14 on the Country Singles chart in in 1955. The following year "Folsom Prison Blues" hit #4 and Cash had his first pair of #1 country hits with "Get Rhythm" and "Walk the Line." There are three more top Country singles with "Guess Things Happen That Way," "There You Go," and his biggest hit, "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen," which topped the charts for ten weeks. In 1958 Cash signed with Columbia and wrote fini to his days at Sun. Virtually every song here was a top ten single on the Country charts, "Give My Love to Rose" being the exception because it only made it to #13. You look at the chart success of these songs and you can see why Cash became a major figure in Country music in the 1950s: "Home Of The Blues: (#3), "Big River" (#4), "Next In Line" (#9), "Come in Stranger" (#6), "Train of Love" (#7), "So Doggone Lonesome" (#4), and "The Ways of a Woman in Love." Backing up Cash on all of these songs are the Tennessee Two, which originally consisted of guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant.
There are only 18 tracks here so this is not a comprehensive collection (there is a five-disc version that has a better claim to that distinction). A few hits like "Don't Make Me Go" (#9), "All Over Again" (#4), and "What Do I Care" (#7), so there is room to quibble, but they are minor all things considered (remember, this is a Rhino album and they are the masters of reissuing blasts from the past). Besides, the three songs that are included that are not "hits"--"Rock Island Line," "Luther Played the Boogie," and "Mean Eyed Cat"--certainly represent the early Johnny Cash, which is ultimately what this album is all about. Just do not be surprised if this collection only whets your appetite for going back to the early years and hearing more from that period.
Johnny Cash, throughout his career, never pulled any punches. He said what he said, and if you liked it fine, but he wasn't doing it for you. He was doing it because that's what he believed. Always thought of as the rebel/outlaw(Folsom Prison Blues), these tracks reveal the devoted(I Walk The Line, Give My Love to Rose), fatalistic(Guess Things Happen That Way, Train of Love, There You Go) JR Cash. And oh yeah, listen to his first song for Sam Phillips at Sun records(Hey Porter), and you can feel the boundless joy of a man finally returning home.
People who don't like Johnny Cash will point out the Tennessee Two backing as stark and simple, but the strength of these songs is the singer. It is why the new American recordings have been so popular. Don't listen to Johnny Cash for flashy arrangements and production tricks. Listen to Johnny Cash for Johnny Cash.
The two Essential CDs of Johnny Cash are excellent. At Folsom and At San Quentin Prison CDs among the best live recordings I know of, but if you don't have this you'll be missing an essential piece of a complete music collection.
His 1950's output--"Folsom Prison Blues," "Get Rhythm," "Hey Porter" and others--were so different from anything else going on at the time. Luther Perkins guitar work was imaculate.
And "I Walk The Line" a downright apocolyptic look at love and guilt and shame and obsession, is one of the all-time great American records.
The influence and greatness of Cash as one of the major figures ,on all major forms of roots music is unparalled and these Sun recordings capture him in the pristine clarity and rawness of his early days and truthfully the best way to approach this artist is on this set of classics.
Not to be missed.