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The Man In Black's early years

Johnny Cash - The Complete Sun Recordings, 1955-1958
(Time Life)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 27, 2005
Johnny Cash

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Whenever an artist of notable stature passes away, every record label they've ever been associated with seems to jump on the bandwagon of pushing product. Granted, it's a way to bring awareness to that musician's illustrious past and make sure they are preserved into the future, but sometimes the quantity of releases becomes excessive and confuses the consumer. And though it's questionable if another Johnny Cash compilation ever really needs to come out (after all, there have been tons in the last few years alone and a soundtrack behind the movie "Walk the Line" just hit stores) The Complete Sun Recordings, 1955-1958 does exactly what it sets out to do. Rather than toting it as the be all end all collection, Time Life thankfully pulls no false advertising punches or attempts to cover more ground than it has access to.

The three-disc set strictly covers those aforementioned years that Cash spent recording for the famed Memphis label under the tutelage of Sam Phillips (also known for his work with Elvis Presley). Whereas Columbia's recent box set The Legend covers four discs, it fails at capturing the singer/songwriter's newer works while the Universal distributed The Legend of Johnny Cash pulls way too much from the latter era, the Sun set gets right to the point and comprehensively covers what some would call the troubadour's most important period.

All the essentials are included, from the groundbreaking "Folsom Prison Blues" to the gut wrenching "Give My Love to Rose" to the tear jerking "Cry, Cry, Cry." The project also covers some of his most notable radio singles, such as the immortal "I Walk the Line," along with Leon Payne's rockabilly infused "I Love You Because." Towards the end of Cash's days with Sun, he also cut tunes written by other notable craftsman, which are also acknowledged with the Roy Orbison penned "You Tell Me" and many from the pad of Hank Williams (including "Hey Good Lookin'" and "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow").

Sure there are many options in purchasing Cash anthologies and having a set of exclusively early recordings might not be everyone's bag. But those who truly understand and appreciate his artistic coming of age and insurgent youthfulness will eat up each and every southern tipped entree. Of course, this set is only one place to start considering The Man in Black has still provided a consistent quality outpouring through his death, though it's an exceptional, sixty-one song launching pad to his vital and vivacious first few chapters.

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