STYLE: Country RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 154065-22692 LABEL: Documents 600183 FORMAT: CD Album ITEMS: 10
Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Re-issues usually come in two styles. One approach is to re-issue albums or box sets with comprehensive CD booklets, and to entice longtime fans of the artist or style featured with plenty of "bonus tracks" (demos, live recordings or tracks never before released on albums). A premium price can be charged for such repackaging embellishments. (Dutch label Bear Family charge a lot for their exhaustive re-issues.) The second approach is to go for quantity over quality. (One company regularly puts out 10 album box sets for little more than the price of a single album with minimal or non-existent booklets.) Re-issue specialists can make money from such fan generosity if they put out compilations or artist albums for which the recordings have fallen out of copyright (in other words, albums made on or before 1965). The fact is, if you re-release such recordings no artist or original record company royalties have to be paid. This situation has meant that in the case of country legend Johnny Cash there has been a veritable tidal wave of re-issues and compilations since his death, most offering endless reshufflings of the tracks he recorded for Sam Phillips' Sun Records prior to his move to Columbia Records. This cheap and cheerful 10 CD collection offers just about all his Sun tracks and plenty of his early albums for Columbia. The package kicks off with his classic debut album 'Johnny Cash With His Hot-And-Blue Guitar', originally released in October 1957 with its hits like "I Walk The Line" and "Cry Cry Cry" interspersed with songs like Stuart Hamblin's "Remember Me" together with a bonus track "Hey Porter"; 1958's 'Johnny Cash Sings The Songs That Made Him Famous' contains his hit "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen", some mainstream songs with some rather dodgy theology ("You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven") and a bonus track "What Do I Care"; 1959's 'Johnny Cash Greatest' was a Sun Records compilation made up of tracks that he had recorded prior to signing with Columbia Records and features the jaunty piece of rockabilly "Luther Played The Boogie" and a 1960 bonus track "Second Honeymoon".
The fourth CD in this box set is 1958's 'The Fabulous Johnny Cash', his first album for Columbia including the gem "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" and the bonus track "The Story Of A Broken Heart"; 'Hymns By Johnny Cash' released in 1959 are largely self-penned gospel songs with one or two covers like Hamblen's "These Things Shall Pass" and Marijohn Wilkin's and John D Loudermilk's "God Will" with a bonus track "I Got Stripes"; 'Songs Of Our Soil' from 1959 could have been the highlight of the entire collection particularly as it includes Johnny's fine version of Roy Acuff's hit "The Great Speckled Bird" and has a bonus track of "You Dreamer You"; 'The Magnificent Johnny Cash' is a strange one to put in the set as it was a budgetline compilation and features tracks already available on some of the other albums in the box; 1960's 'Ride This Train' is another highly regarded album with a strong western theme and no less than five bonus tracks; 1960's 'Now There Was A Song" has some fine covers of songs like Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Marty Robbins' "I Couldn't Keep From Crying" with Jack Clement's "Down The Street To 301" as a bonus; and the set is completed with 1960's 'Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams' featuring 12 more fine covers of Williams' classics though putting the yuletide favourite "The Little Drummer Boy" on as a bonus makes no kind of sense. The value for money nature of the package makes up for the clearly random bonus tracks though it's more difficult to forgive the CD eight album 'Ride This Train' which somehow or other has been mastered at the wrong speed! So unless you like the idea of Johnny Cash sounding like he'd been sniffing helium, that's one CD you'll want to discard from the package. Johnny of course was one of the all-time giants of popular music whose music could have done without the mangling given it by an inattentive technician. But that doesn't preclude the fact that elsewhere this attractively priced box has some music everyone should get to hear.
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