Monday, February 28, 2011



Quite wisely, the Johnny Cash people at Sony are following the same format as they did for Dylan.  Cash's vast estate of tapes, discovered and now handled by son John Carter, are being rolled in the double-disc format, full of rare cuts, unreleased gems, radio shows and demo recordings.  This time, the set includes some of his earliest work from the 1950's, and a parcel of neat gems from the 60's, after his move to L.A.

Disc one starts with my kind of treasure, a full radio show from 1955, Cash's first time hosting his own 15 minute weekly segment, along with the Tennessee Two, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant on guitar and bass.  Cash sounds nervous, especially reading the sponsor's ads, and repeatedly asking for requests by mail.  But the four cuts are classic, especially his early self-written gospel number, Belshazzar.  Released once before on a 2005 expensive edition of a boxed set as bonus cuts, it's good to have this available widely.

Then the new finds appear.  From the tapes stored in his Hendersonville, Tennessee archives come the original demos for the classic Sun Records songs of the 50's, including the seminal I Walk The Line, plus favourites Get Rhythm, Train Of Love and more.  This is just Cash alone, a without the boom-chicka-boom trademark sound of his early Sun hits, and we get to hear him as a true balladeer, steeped in the grand traditions, in love with country, gospel, Western, folk and 19th century music.  With his band and Sun adding the rockabilly, a true original was born, as important a figure as label mate Elvis.  Rounding out disc one are a bunch of rare Sun demos, available only on European collector's pressings and the like.

The second disc is the Hollywood stuff, and that's a lot better than it sounds. Cash moved to Los Angeles when he signed to Columbia, and remained with the label until the mid-80's.  Unlike Elvis, when Johnny went to La-La Land, he didn't lose a step, and in fact only became bigger in the '60's.  He even tried movies, and we get some unreleased material that was written for, and dropped from films, songs of a quality that would have changed Presley's Hollywood debacle for sure.  Many of the 60's singles had unique b-sides that have never been on albums, so to get them collected here is great, as many are top-drawer.  As for the unreleased stuff, well, who knew Johnny had recorded a duet with Lorne "Ringo" Greene?  Yup, singing and speaking, it's a treat, one of the best tracks here.  As with the Dylan bootleg series, you come away from this set with an even greater appreciation for Johnny Cash's career, and some new favourite tracks.

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