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Amazing body of Work from one of the All -Time Greats
on December 4, 2012
Wow! This is a mammoth box set of all 59 (yes 59!) albums which Johnny Cash released on Columbia from his arrival from Sun Records in 1958, until he was unceremoniously dropped by the label 28 years later.
So apart from the Sun releases, which are widely available, five albums on Mercury Records and the iconic American albums produced by Rick Rubin, this is pretty much the core of Johnny Cash's work.
The variety of Cash's output is may be surprising to some. It was Bruce Springsteen who pointed out how much humor Cash brought to his music and, for those used to his sombre Man in Black image, the presence of the comedy album Everybody loves a Nut may paint him in a different light. It's hard to think of another main stream singer who has released a comedy album.
In fact it's hard to think of any entertainer whose work has been so varied.There are gospel albums, Christmas albums, a childrens' album, soundtrack albums from a couple of movies, including The Gospel Road which Cash produced in The Holy Land, two Highwayman albums, a collaboration with Sun survivors Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, a concert from a Swedish Prison and duet albums with June Carter. There are also two CDs of the singles Cash released on Columbia, plus Cash's guest appearances on other artist's albums
Most rewarding in many ways are the Americana albums from the sixties. If the biopic "Walk the Line" had a fault it was in portraying Cash as a self-destructive rockabilly singer with a one-track obsession with June Carter. In fact, Cash was incredibly hard-working and creative throughout the decade, researching folk and cowboy culture for a series of astonishing concept albums such as Ride this Train, Blood Sweat and Tears and Ballads of the True West. You can understand how this original work earned the respect and friendship of Bob Dylan.
Amongst the most powerful and satisfying of these records is Bitter Tears, a blistering attack on the treatment of native Americans, including the powerful Peter La Farge song The Ballad of Ira Hayes which brought Cash into conflict with the Nashville establishment. Also interesting is The Holy Land, a collection of original gospel songs inter-dispersed with audio recordings Cash made on location in Israel.
It is fair to say that Cash took risks with his music and that the recordings don't always work, or stand up well nearly 50 years later, but they give a fascinating insight into Johnny Cash's character and creativity.
It is hard to see the casual Cash fan paying out $220 plus for this box set although, at under $4 a CD, it is arguably brilliant value. It is more likely to be those who bought the original vinyl LPs who will want to listen again and fill the gaps of those they didn't acquire at the time.
Altogether an amazing body of work from one of the most prolific of music's all time greats.
If you are generous enough to give this to the Cash fan in your life as a Christmas present, bear in mind they may still be playing it next Easter. 63 CD's take a long time to get through !