For Christmas it’s always a good idea to put a box-set on your wish list. This time it was Johnny Cash – The Legend for me.
There are many Johnny Cash compilations and box-sets, this particular one was released in 2005 and got a very favorable review on Pitchfork.
As the title of the box set says, Johnny Cash is a legend, and as with most most legends hardly anyone nows the actual story. I guess this box set can help you in this case.
Johnny Cash started in the 50’s pretty much as a contemporary of young Elvis and died as a hip star, produced by Rick Rubin in 2003. That’s quite a career by any standards. But I must admit, that I only really knew the Rick Rubin stuff and the big hits such as Ring of Fire, so I am in no position to comment on the particular selection of songs, and I trust pitchfork’s 9/10 to take this as a representative choice. Listening to the whole set should thus fill my lack of knowledge about The Legend, the good thing being, that there is no overlap with the American Recordings.
First of all, you should be warned, this is country music all the way. So it’s “mainly country” for once. As the man sings:
I didn’t ever play much Rock’n’Roll
’cause I’ve got so much country in my soul
Four CD’s full of Boom Chicka Boom… It can get to you, and I couldn’t be listening to this all of the time, but over all it’s an interesting (in the positive sense) and enjoyable experience. Considering the, at times, fairly primitive music, the lyrics play a big role. I personally am not such a fan of the religious stuff but there is are also some (naive) political songs, plenty of songs about criminals and prison and much more. Some stuff is pretty cheesy but I guess you have to put it into the context of the period it was recorded in.
So how does the rest of Johnny Cash’s career compare to the Records he did with Rick Rubin at the end of his life?
I would say that somewhere in the early-70’s Johnny Cash lost his soul to whoever. Most revealing are the cover versions and collaborations he did in the pre-Rubin era. The Springsteen song Highway Patrolman is drowned in the kind of arrangement that has made generations turn their back on Country music, and of course the U2 song The Wanderer stands no chance to Cash’s version of One. (in fact it doesn’t stand a chance to many songs…).
Disc four is titled Family and Friends and it really has the least interest. I guess it’s more for Johnny Cash fans who don’t want to buy other people’s records. I could really do without it… I’d rather take Redemption Song with Joe Strummer from the Unearthed box.
But overall I recommend The Legend. There are also pretty good liner notes, including all credits for all of the songs and, best of all, the CD’s are black, on both sides, which I really find pretty cool.