November 10, 2005

CD Review: The Legend of Johnny Cash

I am not a country music fan. Never have been. Never will be. However, there are exceptions to every rule. A few years back I heard something that made me stop and listen up. That something was Johnny Cash's cover of the Nine Inch Nails classic "Hurt." He took Trent Reznor's painful words and turned into a morose rumination on his own life. It may be country, but it was cool.

That song led me to the album The Man Comes Around. It was the fourth of the American Recordings, the Rick Rubin produced albums which helped to reintroduce the Man in Black to a younger generation.

I never paid much attention to Johnny Cash. Sure, I was aware of the legend that had grown around him, but my musical tastes never swayed that way. As I grow older, my musical tastes have matured and broadened to include artists the likes I had never dreamt I would like. Those artists include David Bowie, Warren Zevon, and now Johnny Cash.

The Legend of Johnny Cash chronicles his entire career. This CD has been a revelation to me. I have been absolutely hooked on it. It has made many of straight through plays since I placed it in the CD player. This is truly a great greatest hits package. Granted, I am not terribly familiar with the rest of his catalog, so I cannot attest to the completeness contained herein, but I can attest to the quality of the album as a whole.

The album opens with "Cry! Cry! Cry!" It was originally released back in 1955. From there it moves to "Hey Porter", also from 1955. That second track grabbed me as it spun its tale of a man returning home to his Southern home.

Other songs that took hold of my head and pounded this utterly unique sound include the prison epic "Folsom Prison Blues," the uplifting "Get Rhythm," the tough and humorous "A Boy Named Sue," the clothing-centric track "Man in Black," and the automotive classic "One Piece at a Time." I could go on, but I would probably end up listing the entire album!

The last 8 tracks move into the more recent era of the Cash-man. His collaboration with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson is represented, as is the track he recorded with U2. After those are the Rick Rubin produced tracks of the American Recordings era, including "Delia's Gone," and an early version of "The Man Comes Around." Also included here is Johnny's re-working of Soundgarden's "Rusty Cages." It sounded a little awkward the first time I heard it, but it grew on rather quickly and now stands out as distinctly as the original version does. Rounding out the album is the previously mentioned cover of "Hurt."

Something that really struck me throughout the entirety of The Legend of Johnny Cash, was just how dark some of his songs were. Lines like "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" and "If I hadn't shot I'da have her for my wife," demonstrate a darkness that I was unprepared for, but found to be rather enjoyable. Besides the dark, there is a humorous side to his music, and it all works. Each song has it's own distinct way of being, yet they all come from the same unique voice.

Johnny Cash has this wonderfully morose monotone voice which sets him apart. He is like an enigma dressed in the black of the shadows. Besides the look and the voice, there is the music. The sound stands out from the crowd, it is stripped down, nothing that isn't essential is cleaned away. All that is left behind is this crisp sound of acoustic immediacy.

As I said earlier, I will never be a country fan. That does not mean I will discount a country artist based on that criteria, that would be being small minded, but it does mean that I will not be a fan of country in general. I am always glad to discover a new unique artist, even one whose career started 50 years ago.

Bottomline. This is a great collection, for the fan who has it all, or the newbie looking for an entry point, this is for you. I know it has made an impression on me.

Highly Recommended.


Anonymous said...

This is one I haven't heard yet. I'll have to check it out. Johnny was awesome! Looking forward to the movie.

Anonymous said...

cash is sooooooooooooo annoying...i cant stand him ...

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