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Johnny Cash

  • Johnny Cash With His
  • Hot And Blue Guitar,
  • Sings Songs That Made
  • Him Famous,
  • Greatest Johnny Cash,
  • Fabulous Johnny Cash,
  • Hymns By Johnny Cash,
  • Songs Of Our Soil,
  • Sings Hank Williams,
  • Ride This Train,
  • Now There Was A Song,
  • Now Here's Johnny Cash,
  • Hymns From The Heart,
  • The Sound Of Johnny Cash,
  • Blood Sweat And Tears,
  • Original Sun Sound,
  • I Walk The Line,
  • Bitter Tears,

  • Album Reviews |

    Johnny Cash

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    Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar 8 ( 1957 )
    Rock Island Line / I Heard That Lonesome Whistle / If The Good Lord's Willing / Country Boy / Cry Cry Cry / So Doggone Lonesome / Remember Me / I Was There When It Happened / I Walk The Line / Wreck Of The Old 97 / Folsom Prison Blues / Doin' My Time

    Cash and the Tennessee Two and his first album released on Sun in 1957. Indeed, it was the first proper LP ever released on Sun Records. There's four of his hit singles here, there's b-sides, there's other songs dug out by Cash, a man who wanted to keep music alive. On the best Johnny Cash discography site i've found here they list the Leadbelly tune later made famous by Lonnie Donergan ( the man who kick-started The Beatles! ) as a Johnny Cash composition. It's easy to see why, the entire album has a seamless sound and style. It's not really the classic sun sound here, Johnny was different right from the start. A sparse sound, true enough. Yet, energetic rockabilly country rather than Rock n Roll, yet the beginnings of Rock n Roll are as much here as they were on the early Elvis sessions. A good half the album was written by Johnny Cash then, alongside old folk and country tunes. 'Cry Cry Cry' and 'I Walk The Line' were both Cash originals and it's not bad if you can write two all time timeless classics to put on your debut, is it? Oh, forgot about 'Folsom Prison Blues'. That makes three alltime classics then? Well, yes. It does. Takes some doing, try to think of many other debut albums that contain such classic originals. If you say 'The Beatles' at this stage, then i'll shoot you in the ass, for having such a lousy memory. Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly. These were the superstars. The Beatles were a phenomenom, fueled by looks and hype, as much as actual talent. Anyway, this is the album where we really do get to hear the king of the shuffle. I played this album to an ex-girlfriend, dubbing Cash as such, and she was in hysterics soon afterwards. The classic Cash sun records sounds, sparse, minimal yet energetic. Cash made an immediate impact, admiring Hank Williams, Leadbelly and numerous other influences but not wanting to be a copy of them. Oh, apparently the version of 'CountryBoy' here is different on CD as it was on the original LP version. It's more sparse, solo Johnny, on the CD version.

    'So Doggone Lonesome', hey, another Cash original! Another stunner on this actually very little LP that was soon replaced by numerous hits compilations. Still, Johnny talking about the tune, the immortal classic 'I Walk The Line'? I never got that chord progression out of my mind-from E to A to D back to A to E to B 7th back to E. It broke all the musical laws in history, but I couldn't forget it. . It was more or less an accident. All the best discoveries need an element of luck. Yet, you need to be determined and a searcher of new thoughts to find that luck. Johnny Cash was such a man. Still, you Beatle freaks out there? During 'Cry Cry Cry', Johnny rhymes 'Try Try Try', 'Bye Bye Bye' and 'Lie Lie Lie' with 'Cry Cry Cry'. Still, Johnny lent some actual authority, plus sheer sense of fun, plus meaning, because the entire song taken as a whole is genuine. You know, it's not 'Love, love me do. I know I love you....' I have nothing against The Beatles, as my Beatles ratings will show you, yet Cash at one stage was selling more records than The Beatles in the US. Those pesky country charts? Yeah, THOSE charts. Country music is huge in the USA. I've never lived there, yet it doesn't take a huge amount of discussion and reading to learn facts and figures or historical thoughts. Still, ignoring all speculation, any new Cash convert is likely to be very pleased with this debut LP. Indeed, get this and three other 'proper' Cash LPs rather than a compilation, and you'll be laughing and far better off than buying 'The Essential' or some other kind of Record Company created hits LP. You know? Hello, this is Johnny Cash. What more do you need to know?

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    Sings Songs That Made Him Famous 8 ( 1958 )
    Ballad Of A Teenage Queen / There You Go / I Walk The Line / Don't Make Me Go / Guess Things Happen That Way / Train Of Love / The Ways Of A Woman In Love / Next In Line / You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven / I Can't Help It / Home Of The Blues / Big River

    Sun lost Johnny to Columbia, yet enough material was in the vaults to release more Cash Lps. 'Sings Songs That Made Him Famous' opens with the number 14 billboard hit song, 'Ballad Of A Teenage Queen'. 'Guess Things Happen That Way' hit #11. B-sides such as 'There You Go, 'Don't Make Me Go', 'Big River' and 'You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven' sit alongside material recorded across '57 and '58 that had yet to see a release. Of course, you could pick yourself up a Johnny Cash 'Sun Records' collection and be very happy, but what romance is there in doing that? Anyway, for the record, 'Sings Songs That Made Him Famous' is very nearly as good as the Cash debut LP and for good reason. The list of classics almost fall over each other to eagerly present themselves to a listener. The first three songs especially rank as all time classics. Two a-sides, one b-side ( 'There You Go' ) equally as good, or very nearly, as the a-sides. It was a world in which singles ruled, albums were still in their rock n roll infancy. A classical LP or a jazz LP might be taken seriously. The likes of Elvis, Johnny, whomever..... the LP was very much a rounding up excersize, purely a money-making excersize to capitalize on the strange individuals who sought to buy LPs rather than 45s. Remaining classics here? Well, 'Guess Things Happen That Way' and 'The Nearest Thing To Heaven', obviously.

    Not everything is a tip-top of the poppermost here for an album of hits and filler. 'Dont Make Go' and 'The Ways Of A Woman In Love' lack the distinctive-ness of prime Johnny Cash, although the Sun Studio's echo etc is still there. So quite such distinguished material, although 'The Ways Of A Woman In Love' does feature a stupendously fun honky-tonk piano section. The closing 'Big River' is also fun, Johnny himself only taking the piece semi-seriously in an attempt to inject some fun into proceedings. It works, his laughs, the stabbing guitar parts ( stabbing quietly, mind you ) all raise a grin. A brief twenty-eight minute long LP thus ends and we're all none the wiser and if we'd been around at the time would have no doubt bought the 45s. If we had, and still had them now, we'd be locking them up in a display case, such is their legendary status. The album still only gets 'an 8' though.

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    Greatest Johnny Cash 7 ( 1959 )
    Goodbye Little Darlin' / I Just Thought You'd Like To Know / You Tell Me / It's Just About Time / I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Katy Too / Thank's A Lot / Luther Played The Boogie / You Win Again / Hey Good Lookin / I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You / Get Rhythm

    'Greatest'? Well, it's no such thing clearly. Where are the hits? Already used up by Sun, bar one or two, naturally. Still, somebody was thinking of something ( unless it was pure chance ) because 'Greatest Johnny Cash' sees our good friend in black moving towards more straightforward ( ish ) country, rather than the rockabilly that had made his name. It's interesting to note similarities between a tune such as 'Goodbye Little Darlin' and Elvis Presley's Sun ballad material. It's definitely there, the atmosphere of the room comes through and Mr Cash proves himself a damn fine vocalist, that's if he hadn't already. Indeed, the first and last tunes here and perhaps the best the album has to offer. 'Goodbye Little Darlin' is all atmosphere, surpremely so, topped off by a wonderful Cash vocal. 'Get Rhythm' was already at least two years old, having seen the light of day as the b-side to 'Walk In Line'. It's a piece of typically energetic Johnny Cash rockabilly train shuffle. Yes, sir. In a similar vein is 'Hey Good Lookin', Johnny sings it with due reverence and it's a fine couple of minutes of musical entertainment. The barroom piano enters the fray as Johnny no doubt downs a beer or three lamenting the fact he forgot to remember to forget 'her'. Well, it's well worn country themes, less so in the late fifties mind you. We've worn the same themes plenty of times since then, too. You can tell i'm struggling to review these Cash LPs can't you? When he joined Columbia, he'd quickly work up a series of concept albums, albums that didn't always meet with the record company approval, but at least there seemed to be a point in making and releasing them. Which isn't quite the case here.

    'Katy Too' is a fine slice of the classic Johnny Cash shuffle, 'Luther Played The Boogie' is Johnny in pure entertainment mode, yet that's not a bad thing. He was a very fine entertainer, let's face it. Music for the child in us all, whether the song was about dying or something else, who cared? Johnny could cut across boundaries, appealing to rock and country fans alike. Hat's off. Oh yes. There's no point to this album at all, as i've already hinted. It's also even shorter than 'Songs That Made Him Famous', but we don't really mind. A box-set containing these three Sun LPs would make a fine gift for any music lover, as far as i'm concerned.

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    The Fabulous Johnny Cash 9 ( 1959 )
    Run Softly Blue River / Franklie's Man, Johnny / That's All Over / The Troubadour / One More Ride / That's Enough / I Still Miss Someone / Don't Take Your Guns To Town / I'd Rather Die Young / Pickin' Time / Shepherd Of My Heart / Suppertime

    Johnny Cash, the Tennesee Two and The Jordinaires? Well, it's a fairly legendary combination. The style hasn't changed a lot though for the first Johnny Cash LP for Columbia. The Jordinaires provide distinctive backing vocals and musically, the same railroad shuffle as heard on Sun is prevailant. We've twelve songs lasting twenty nine minutes in total, so by today's standards, still a little poor value for money wise. Reissues add a further six songs, but it's the original twelve track LP i'm more concerned about. In short, it's great. Hardly a weak cut here and whilst the songs contained within arguably aren't as famous as many of his early sun hits, a couple of tunes here did become pop-hits as well as country hits and the LP as a whole shifted a lot of units. Johnny Cash was the man! The LP is more cohesive arguably than his Sun efforts thanks to the fact the cuts were recorded over a two month, three session period, rather than a year year period, as could happen with Sun. Five of the twelve songs are Cash compositions, but everything is made his own anyway. Well, let's take the rather lack-lustre 'Suppertime' as an example. Not the finest thing here, but it's made by the spoken word section, Johnny suddenly coming across with great distinction and authority after sounding rather bored with the rest of the song. Still, it's an appropriate album closer and very country. The pedal steel sound is to thank for that. 'That's All Over' I just can't get out of my head. A very simple tune, but Johnny is just irresistable here. The self penned 'Frankie's Man, Johnny' and 'Don't Take Your Guns To Town' reveal Cash to be an accomplished story-teller. The structure and style of the lyrics are markedly different to the cover material. Not so much songs with a verse, chorus, verse structure, rather a continous selection of verse, accompanied by a tagline or two as such, representing a chorus of sorts. It works, 'Frankie's Man, Johnny' especially, another stone-cold Cash classic.

    'That's Enough' and 'Shepherd Of My Heart' reveal the more spiritual side of Cash, something that would expanded upon on further albums. A song such as the mawkish in other hands 'That's Enough' is turned into something utterly believable and catchy in Cash's hands. Right from the start, the baritone voice of Johnny Cash just has such tremendous believability and authority, always a good thing for any country singer to have. Ah, 'One More Ride' is just so great, Magical/silly backing vocals from The Jordinaires included. You know, those kind of fifties/sixties 'bah, ba dah' backing vocals by guys you imagine perform in sharply pressed suits, very clean cut. What else? Ah, I don't know. Just buy the damn thing already, it's an album that's fast become a Cash favourite of mine. You can pick it up these days as a fantastic 'two-fer', two albums for about 6? Bargain!

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    Hymns By Johnny Cash 8 ( 1959 )
    It Was Jesus / I Saw A Man / Are All The Children In / The Old Account / Lead Me Gently Home / Swing Low Sweet / Snow In His Hair / Lead Me Father / I Call Him / These Things Shall Pass / Hell Be A Friend / God Will

    'Hymns By Johnny Cash' is another release from Columbia/Legacy. The story goes that Sam Phillips wasn't keen on allowing Johnny to record and release a gospel album. Johnny took up a lucrative contract with Columbia and this album is part of the reason why. Another sound business deal by Sam Phillips clearly, 'Hymns' went onto sell half a million copies. Many of the songs are original, although a few Cash interpretations do feature. The sound of the entire LP doesn't really resemble that of gospel song. The albums varies between the expected Cash boom-chick-boom guitar sound and slower, more straightforward relaxed strums, often featuring angelic style 50s harmony. 'Hymns By Johnny Cash' set up a pattern for future Cash LPs. A mix of originals and interpretations based around a moral theme. The album does come across more as 'country-hymns', but we'll let that pass. It's a really relaxing listen, although 'It Was Jesus' is a rousing opening, 'I Call Him' is another uptempo tune whilst the Cash version of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' is dramatically altered by Cash. His trademark acoustic and spacious sound allows for the phrasing of the words to be styled by Cash. I'm not a religious man as such and despise the sport of Rugby, but I like listening to Johnny's version of the tune. Figure it out

    'Hell Be A Friend' is wonderful, this is why I listen to Johnny! Well, the lyrics are great. Well god told noah to build an ark, it's gonna rain, it's gonna be dark. Let the animals in two by two, and don't let a sinful man through. Quickly typed that whilst listening, it goes something like that anyway. Get entertained AND educated and get that famous Cash shuffle all within the same song. Excellent! 'These things shall pass' is soothing, 'Snow In His Hair' is corny, although this tune about Snow in his father's hair, the son joining his father in heaven, a halo around his fathers head. I cherish the snow and his hair' says Johnny. There's snow in his hair and i helped but it there, a halo of worry and care Overall, whilst 'Hymns By Johnny Cash' may not be to everybody's taste, it's a worthwhile addition to the mighty Cash back-catalogue and well worth picking up when you see it in the shops.

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    Songs Of Our Soil 7 ( 1959 )
    Drink To Me / Five Feet High And Rising / Man On The Hill / Hank And Joe And Me / Clementine / Great Speckled Bird / I Want To Go Home / Caretaker / Old Apache Squaw / Don't Step On Mother's Roses / My Grandfather's Clock / It Could Be You.

    An early Americana concept album from Johnny, the title says it all, 'Songs Of Our Soil'. Hence, a song about a flood witnessed by Johnny aged 5, remembered and turned into a tune 'Five Feet High And Rising', also the nearest this album gets to true classic cash. The lyrics across the albums twelve tracks are very folk and it comes as no surprise to see and hear Cash do his own version of 'Sloop John B' made famous by The Beach Boys. Titled here 'I Wanna Go Home' it remains an effective folk/country tune, although a world removed from what it would become in The Beach Boys hands, of course. Most of these songs were recorded in a single day, the concept is a lot looser than later ( and superior? ) Cash efforts and in his long history of making music, 'Songs Of Our Soil' is neither a disgrace nor an essential work. For starters, it's very short. Without the bonus tracks on the reissue, this album lasts a grand total of twenty three minutes. Even the reissue clocks in at under half an hour. This is likely to put off all but the Cash collector, yet the album still contains some fine material. Johnny would rarely let his quality slip across five decades or so of music making. So, 'Five Feet High And Rising' was a hit song, drunks, farming, witnessed real and imagined events and a loose American theme runs through the other eleven songs.

    'Great Speckled Bird' is a nice tune with laid-back Country Piano, even a slice of pedal steel. Whatever style Cash was covering it was his style that made it work. The spareness and space and that deep baritone also connect and combine - they do so here, too. 'My Grandfathers Clock' is impossible to resist even though it's about a clock stopping when a persons father dies. Another favourite of mine here is 'Hank And Joe And Me', I do like the narrative, story-telling side of Cash. So, a minor work? Well, the general quality is upto par, yet there's simply not enough of it here. Well, a lot of these early Cash albums are similarly short, but.... I don't know. It's noticeable more here I guess because there's a lack of well known Cash tunes to make up for it. A '7' it is, but don't be put off getting it, especially if you see it going cheap.

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    Sings Hank Williams 5 ( 1960 )
    I Can't Help It / You Win Again / Hey Good Lookin' / I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You / Next In Line / Straight A's In Love / Folsom Prison Blues / Give My Love To Rose / I Walk The Line / I Love You Because / Come In Stranger / Mean Eyed Cat

    A sun-records release that doesn't exactly do what it says on the tin. Several of Johnny's own composition are featured and being a Sun release, we've heard most of them before. So, hardly an artistic LP to be held in high regard but it remains that there are good performances here. Only the first four tracks in fact are from the pen of Hank Williams and the entire album including previously released material only just makes it to twenty six minutes in length. For both of these factors, I can't possibly give this a high grade, especially when the opening cut is simply irritating with the barest of arrangments and I don't even like the song in the first place or Johnny's performance of it. In fact, of the four Hank tunes, only one is slightly uptempo and that's the joyous 'Hey Good Looking'. The other three songs and performances I can do entirely without. Johnny's own songs sound more committed, but drawing conclusions is difficult for such a hodge-potch of an album release. Suffice to say that rounding out the first side ( of the vinyl edition ) is Johnny's 'Next In Line' and 'Straight A's In Love'. The latter is a tune I really like at least, the Johnny Cash shuffle applied to humorous lyrics.

    Side two then. 'Folsom Prison Blues' and 'I Walk The Line' are of course two classic compositions but can be heard in a better context than this. It's interesting to compare the Cash version of 'I Love Because' to the Elvis version. They sound like different songs to each other. Elvis doing one of his pieces on it, Johnny turning it into a mid-tempo number. I actually far prefer the Elvis version. 'Come In Stranger' and 'Mean Eyed Cat' round out this collection then, two decent tunes especially the rockabilly 'Mean Eyed Cat'.

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    Ride This Train 8 ( 1960 )
    Loading Coal / Slow Rider / Lumberjack / Dorraine Of Ponchartrain / Going To Memphis / When Papa Played The Dobro / Boss Jack / Old Doc Brown

    A story from when travelling the vast expanse of America could only be done by train. Johnny's early material for Columbia records didn't greatly differ from his now classic Sun material. Yet, the move to columbia gave Johnny the opportunity to record more ambitiously. Indeed, 'Ride This Train' is a concept album a good six or seven years before the term became popular with rock bands. Anyway, this album right here is totally captivating. The songs themselves aren't, I would wager, amongst Mr Cash's best songs, necessarily. Yet, the album is a whole. Each song begins with the sound of a train making a journey 'across this land'. Along the way, we meet various different characters and take in various stories and situations. Ghostly narration leads into each song and it's these narration sections, almost a kind of alternate American history lesson, that ultimately give 'Ride This Train' a little something extra. The sense that this album is coming to you from some other time and universe is present whilst listening. His double set 'Sings Ballads Of The Old West' gives out a similar feeling, but this is perhaps a shorter, more focused and intense set of songs than that particular record. I shall be discussing that elsewhere, in any event. Oh, i don't quite know what to say about 'Ride This Train', I like the narration more than the songs, I love the stories and the echo and the sonic quality. It sounds very real. You know sometimes when you listen to a record, and there's something intangible about it that keeps you coming back? Often for me, that something is the actual sound of the record. 'Ride This Train' sounds like it was recorded in a cave, in a good way. Lots of echo and the songs cover a lot of ground.

    A shade over thirty three minutes long, 'Ride This Train' opens with a brilliant segue from the opening narration into the charming and funny 'Loading Coal'. At one point, I do believe, Johnny almost starts rapping. Rap music, hey! Rapping with the sound of a train going past, ever onwards. "But, let's look a little at the heart and muscle of this land, the things you don't learn in school". "Boy, i'll be glad when I get big enough to work in the mines..." and then 'Loading Coal' comes in, very funny dark lyrics, brilliant stuff all round. 'Slow Rider' is a horse, 'Lumberjack' is almost cartoonish - a painting. "You don't cut timber on a windy day". I'll bear that in mind, Johnny! We continue, a ballad, piano honkey tonk for 'Going To Memphis'. 'When Papa Played The Dobro' sounds one hundred years old and the closing two songs are there, 'Old Doc Brown' especially worth listening to for the intonation of the words and for the story. It keeps you listening.

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    Now There Was A Song 6 ( 1960 )
    Seasons Of My Heart / I Feel Better All Over / I Couldn't Keep From Crying / Time Changes Everything / My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You / I'd Just Be Fool Enough To Fall / Transfusion Blues / Why Do You Punish Me / I Will Miss You When You Go / I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry / Just One More / Honky Tonk Girl

    The concept here is simply Johnny paying tribute to other singers and their songs. Simple as that. For this, he's joined by a proper country band, fiddle and pedal steel are prominent throughout the album. This fleshing out of the bare-bones of the usual Cash sound provides for a pleasing, listenable LP, if less distinctive than other Cash albums. 'Seasons Of My Heart' which opens this collection is also arguably the best performance here. A carefully, well put together backing track with bass, fiddle and pedal steel along with real country-barroom piano. I'm always going to like a song called 'My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You', a real strong country tune. Johnny performs it straight. Actually, that's why i'm not so keen on this LP. He performs everything straight, dutifully performing these country songs with a reverence and losing much of his own character and humour in the process. So yes, Johnny can play with a real country band and perform 'real' country songs, but what's the point in that? His voice is distinctive but it's a lot more distinctive when he's singing his own material, at least, at THIS stage in his career! Peppering an album with the odd cover version is fine and turning it into something of your own, of course, he would make something of a point of doing so on the American series of albums. Here though, it's all played far too straight vocally and musically. As I've said, the music is nice but it's not quite enough to make the LP essential.

    'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' is a tear-jerking performance, one of the better ones on the LP. The upbeat 'Honky-Tonk Girl' is fun and we could have done with more uptempo tunes, too much here strays into ballad territory. I'm just realising i've got another 40 or so Johnny Cash albums to review. I'm going to bed.

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    Now Here's Johnny Cash 8 ( 1961 )
    Sugar Time / Down The Streets To 301 / Life Goes On / Port Of Lonely Hearts / Cry Cry Cry / My Treasure / Oh Lonesome Me / So Doggone Lonesome / You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven / The Story Of A Broken Heart / Hey, Porter! / Home Of The Blues

    'My Treasure' was recorded late 1954 in Sun Studio, Memphis. We have songs four, five, eight and eleven recorded at varying times in 1955 then we skip forwards to 1957 for 'Home Of The Blues' with the remaining six songs coming from 1958. Well, this was one of the last Sun Studios butcher jobs of their Cash recordings but unlike the ramshackle 'Sings Hank Williams' this one actually holds together as a satisfying product. We've songs from the full range of styles Cash presented whilst at Sun records including a few hits along the way. I love the darker sounds Cash created and the descending 'So Doggone Lonesome' always hits that particular spot. 'Oh Lonesome Me' sounds like it has hit written all over it, although the overdubbed backing occasionally threatens to take away from the simplicity of the actual composition. Oh, as an aside, the original LP version of this album was twelve songs lasting twenty seven minutes, talk about that for economy! Songs like 'Hey, Porter!' are just fantastic, you'd have to be a man with a cold heart not to enjoy that little chugging train song. The opening 'Sugar Time' is notable mainly for the sheer amount of echo placed on the Cash vocal, the guitar and even the handclaps echo with the sound of ancient mountaintops. The follow up songs on the LP, 'Down The Streets To 301' and 'Life Goes On' are both welcome additions to the Cash catalogue, high quality enjoyable material.

    'Port Of Lonely Hearts' is deeply strange, Cash duetting with himself but the vocals shift away from each other creating an unsettling, uneasy effect. Perhaps this tune could have been left on the cutting room floor? We revisit Cash first hit, 'Cry Cry Cry' when it was all about simplicity, voice and guitar. In just a few short years Cash penned a tremendous amount of classic material at Sun when you come to think about it for any length of time. I dig the barroom honky tonk feel of 'A Story Of A Broken Heart', not a classic, but Cash still gets a lot in with just a simple strum, some humming and some fairly simple rhymes. What else? Well, tis only a short album so a short review will perhaps suffice. Always nice to hear the sweet 'You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven' in any context. Well, funerals excepted, naturally.

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    Hymns From The Heart 7 ( 1962 )
    He'll Understand and Say Well Done / God Must Have My Fortune Laid Away / I Got Shoes / When I've Learned Enough to Die / Let the Lower Lights Be Burning / If We Never Meet Again / When I Take My Vacation in Heaven / Taller Than Trees / I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone / When He Reached Down His Hand for Me / My God Is Real / These Hands

    It's often been said that this was the sort of album Johnny Cash went to Columbia records for in the first place, having met huge resistance from Sun Records Sam Phillips to recording and releasing gospel music. His second album of hymns featuring just one Cash original though this time around, 'I Got Shoes' which actually does kind of stick out like a sore thumb among the other eleven sincerely performed religious songs. The vocals of Johnny Cash are well suited to performing this type of material, his deep baritone lending appropriate seriousness and weight to proceedings. The music is well performed but a special word for the backing vocals which really do lend the album a necessary lightness of texture, allowing for an easier listen than if Cash had featured alone. Twelve songs in total then, one original and some twenty eight minutes running time which may seem a little miserly in this day and age but was quite regular and routine back in the day. 'I Got Shoes' is lots of fun, 'bum, de dum dum' goes the bass harmonies, 'i'm gonna play!' go the female harmonies, cymbals are shaken and this is an upbeat two minute slice of entertainment you should enjoy, whether religious or not.

    In contrast to the sole Cash original 'I Got Shoes', the likes of 'Taller Than Trees' is slow, mournful, respectful. 'You my son can grow taller than the trees'. Indeed. 'Down at her knees I knelt,' sings Mr Cash. 'When I Take My Vacation In Heaven' is arguably the most memorable of the hymns here, a timeless song performed with care and genuine feeling by Johnny Cash and again, the backing vocals magically shine.

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    The Sound Of Johnny Cash 7 ( 1962 )
    Lost in the Desert / Accidentally on Purpose / In the Jailhouse Now / Mr. Lonesome / You Won't Have Far to Go / In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home / Delia's Gone / I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know / You Remembered Me / I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now / Let Me Down Easy / Sing It Pretty, Sue

    This 25 minutes long Columbia Johnny Cash recording from 1962 has been somewhat forgotten over the years and was very late in receiving a CD release. There are also scant details online about the recording of the LP, although of course the very album title tends to invite a listener to expect that old Sun Records sound, not something we really receive. Two self-penned Cash compositions (You Remembered Me and Sing It Pretty Sue) join a well-selected 10 cover versions. The majority of songs here are slow to mid-tempo and yes, have some boom-chicka-boom trademark Cash sound, but less fiery than the Sun era. Key noteworthy facts, this album contains 'In The Jailhouse Now', a Jimmie Rodgers cover which reached number 8 on the Country charts, and 'Delia's Gone', which Cash would later notably re-record for the 'American Recordings' album series. 'The Sound Of Johnny Cash' itself failed to trouble the Billboard album charts. Johnny's deep, calm bass-baritone voice dominates proceedings, with the musical backing sticking to his tried and tested formula, Cash creating the rhythm, simply picked and clear lead guitar amidst bass that would play along with the lead - alongside occasional added percussive affects.

    In fact, in terms of the running sequence of the songs presented here, just as an aside, it really is best to think of them in old vinyl 'A' and 'B' sides. Side 'A' ends with 'In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home', better known as 'Sloop John B' to Beach Boys fans and well known under a variety of titles to American folk-music fans. 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know' was a number one country hit in 1953 for The Davis Sisters on RCA Records. Bob Dylan, Tammy Wynette, Slim Whitman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kitty Wells and a whole host of other notable country acts have covered the song through the years. Why so much attention for this? Well, I really like this song by some obscure songwriter that only ever wrote a handful of other songs during his lifetime. I really like this Johnny Cash version where Piano or auto-harp or some other such instrument (I can't even tell!) plays majestically silly little lines way off in the background, drenched in absolutely natural room echo, but it sounds forever like it was in a different room than everybody performing and playing at the time.

    Between the end of side 'A' and 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know' is 'Delia's Gone' which lacks the gravity or importance of his own later re-recording and following both opening songs on the second half of the LP is the upbeat 'You Remembered Me', a fun little track which more fully recalls Cash's Sun records era than perhaps anything else here.

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    Blood Sweat And Tears 8 ( 1963 )
    The Legend of John Henry's Hammer / Tell Him I'm Gone / Another Man Done Gone / Busted / Casey Jones / Nine Pound Hammer / Chain Gang / Waiting for a Train / Roughneck

    The Johnny Cash sound gains a significant addition for this record, he gains an actual drummer. WS Holland plays throughout the album, the bass sound is warmer than previous records and fairly booms out and the general overall arrangements are more suited to larger arenas when considering live tours. The additional arrival of the Carter Family as backing singers also helps lend this album a distinctive sound of its own, apart from previous Cash records, and certainly a step forwards to new areas musically. 'Blood Sweat And Tears' and its tales of the American working man isn't revolutionary of course in any music respect, but it's a fully-fleshed album release in terms of overall musicality, without any of the instruments or arrangements being at all detrimental to the actual songs contained herein.

    What about these songs, then? Well, the opening Cash/Carter penned 'The Legend Of John Henry's Hammer' approaches the nine minute mark in terms of running time, is a weird, schizophrenic kind of musical composition complete with hammer and quacks and all sorts of sound effects. Yet, Cash himself dominates the proceedings, the storytelling comes through and we pass through a variety of tempos and emotions. This is a song that certainly couldn't have been considered a commercial way to open an LP, yet it gains strength through repeated listenings. 'Do engines get rewarded for their steam?' asks Cash at one point - his train songs something I always enjoy. Second song up, also a Cash original is a blues number, only tinged with Country music, and still on the Hammer trail. 'Another Man Done Gone' is acapella call and response and faintly chilling whilst single 'Busted', which wasn't a hit of any description, adds a welcome happy feel to proceedings after a fairly epic album opening sequence.

    'Casey Jones' kicks off the second side of the Vinyl album, and these old Cash albums Im told really benefit from being experienced from either an original, or properly remastered Vinyl listening experience. 'Casey Jones' is upbeat, contains Banjo and Cash continues to keep you captivated with his calm yet boomingly authoritative voice lending authenticity to proceedings - there is Mandolin on 'Nine Pound Hammer' - just to illustrate how musically decorated at times this album can be at times.

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    Original Sun Sound 6 ( 1964 )
    Always Alone / Country Boy / Goodnight Irene / Wide Open Road / Thanks a Lot / Big River / Belshazzar / Born to Lose / New Mexico / I Forgot to Remember to Forget / Two Timin' Woman / The Story of a Broken Heart

    It's now 1964, Cash is well into his reign at Columbia Records, yet Sun still had a few unreleased Cash recordings in the vaults to combine with previously released Johnny Cash recordings for this particular LP release. The original twelve tracks of this collection span his entire run at Sun, from 1955 through tracks recorded in the Spring and Summer of 1958. Several tracks here make some irony of the album title, given that newly recorded overdubs featured, yet we have 'Big River', a huge Cash hit back in the day amongst other songs compiled in a seemingly random manner, yet we don't too many of the familiar Sun hits and this collection containing some of the lesser known Sun material is probably worthy enough to feature coverage in this series of reviews of his entire output. Well, more or less his entire output. I'll decide at some stage where to actually stop.

    'Born To Lose' therefore seems to be the original Sun sound yet with cooing harmonies to bring the sound towards his Columbia output, yet, not really. 'Goodnight Irene' is interesting here, Johnny takes it well, yet nobody will ever of course top the Leadbelly original. 'New Mexico' is fun, a sparse musical background dominated by the strangely calming yet always commanding of respect vocals of Mr Johnny Cash. "I forgot, to remember, to forget her" sways melodically of course 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget'. I like the addition of the Piano parts during parts of this track, adding to the trademark original Sun Records sound. Honky Tonk closes the original release of this LP with humming bees humming and a Robin flying by. All nice, if hardly essential, stuff.

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    I Walk The Line 6 ( 1964 )
    I Walk the Line / Bad News / Folsom Prison Blues / Give My Love to Rose / Hey Porter / I Still Miss Someone / Understand Your Man / Wreck of the Old 97 / Still in Town / Big River / Goodbye Little Darlin' Goodbye / Troublesome Waters

    This is an album of Columbia records re-recordings of earlier Johnny Cash Sun Records hit, seemingly put out to serve no other purpose than to get around the fact Columbia couldn't use the original versions on any kind of hits collections they may have wished to put out at any stage in the future. A few songs here are new however, which makes this set a rather confusing release, all in all. Still, 'Bad News' and 'Understand Your Man' would somehow manage to become top ten hits on the Country music charts and the album itself sold well, being certified as a gold record and topping the Country album charts for awhile back there. It still... well.... releases like this and the reissues Sun were putting out at the time seem so opposed to the thematic and ambitious (if not commercial) recordings Johnny Cash actually wanted to record and put out for Columbia. There seems to have been some kind of battle for him to actually realize his creative freedom, fairly astonishing to consider it is that 'I Walk The Line' was recorded by most of the same personnel responsible for the excellent 'Blood Sweat And Tears' LP. In fact, Cash himself seems to almost have chosen some of the new material as a deliberate yang to the re-recordings of the hits yin.

    Nowhere is this clearer than in the difference between the first two tracks contained on this album. The re-recording of perhaps his biggest hit of all 'I Walk The Line' is a pale imitation of the original - but not in terms of performance. The band themselves were well versed in playing the song live, after all. It's the production and sound that let the side down. This is flat and dry and lacks the echo and spaces in the original recording. 'Bad News' on the other hand sounds drunken, whether deliberately or not, it does. Johnny snorts and laughs his way through parts of the recording and even the musical backing seems to have suffered from a heavy dose of 'something'. 'Folsom Prison' and 'Give My Love To Rose' suffer from the same dryness 'I Walk The Line' does, although 'Hey Porter' fares far better, a sprightly performance utterly lacking in boredom. 'Understand Your Man' then, was a hit. It's a straight-ish country track with Cash himself still seeming to be under the influence of something - his vocals are merely part of the overall sound, rather than dominating, as they usually would do. Pedal steel opens up 'Goodbye Little Darlin' and there are some welcome musical and vocal additions harmonically. 'Troublesome Waters' meanwhile still witnesses a Johnny Cash struggling to impose himself on proceedings, yet at times he sounds genuinely emotional, really connecting with the sentiments of certain sections of the lyrical content, although not necessarily to the song as a whole.

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    Bitter Tears 7 ( 1964 )
    As Long as the Grass Shall Grow / Apache Tears / Custer / The Talking Leaves / The Ballad of Ira Hayes / Drums / White Girl / The Vanishing Race

    Johnny Cash covers and co-writes four or five songs by, and with, little known political songwriter Peter La Farge. He also has his usual two or three solo compositions present and correct and creates a thematic album focusing on the plights and otherwise of the American Indian. The one single taken from this set, 'The Ballad Of Ira Hayes' kept Columbia happy by reaching number 3 on the Country charts. Of the album as a whole and its concept, Cash was convinced he came from Cherokee blood - native American stock, although later researching this, he could find no actual link or evidence for this - but he certainly came to this project sympathetic and dedicated. He did also later say in a 1975 interview with Penthouse however that 'the higher' he got, the more Indian blood he thought he had in him. The entire album took just two days to record and Cash would later take out adverts in the music press in an effort to get DJs and radio stations to play the set - with little success. Columbia you feel were happy for Cash to record such sets if they spawned a hit single or two, and if other albums would be of a more commercial bent. Back in the early Sixties, Cash could put out two or three albums a year, after all. It almost didn't matter if an album came out and then vanished into obscurity if a hit single was born of the album recording sessions. Albums where by the by, and lucky accidents, if they did happen to sell. Well, at least, it seemed this way for Johnny Cash. The more important artistically he felt an album project was, invariably, the less successful it would be commercially.

    Eight songs here and nothing much really for the average country music fan of 1964. 'Custer' and 'The Ballad' Of Ira Hayes' seem as though they could exist outside of the albums conceptuality, although a few others, 'White Girl' could also pass for something that could be fit onto a compilation, although perhaps somewhat controversially, when divorced from its bed-fellows. The closing 'The Vanishing Race' and indeed, this album as a whole - serious as it is - perhaps influenced the likes of Dylan - whoever knows? 'The Vanishing Race' is perhaps the purest expression of what Cash wanted to achieve here, no nod to Country - this is a tale of 'his people following a vanishing race', with sparse drum beats and his voice expressive, demanding, commanding and then, alternately, vanishing off into the distance altogether - perhaps quite appropriately. The albums opening track meanwhile is a fairly gentle introduction to the entire concept, being recognizably a Johnny Cash number musically, albeit with some spoken word storytelling from Cash. Altogether, I cannot recommend this album as being as special as 'Ride This Train' in terms of Cash concept albums, yet on the other hand, it is utterly captivating during the half an hour or so whilst it spins by your ears and certain lyrics capture your attention. A semi-qualified success, then? Well, yes.

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    this page last updated 05/09/15

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