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Johnny Cash – [Boxed Set]

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Sunday, 30 November 2008

There are some things that – before you hear anything from the album, before you even see the track list of what’s on it – just look classic. The design of a set – the tasteful layout, dark monochrome photo on the front of an embossed tin box – are instantly attractive and everyone that sees it, whether they’re fans or not, has to have a look. That’s the feeling you get when you take in Sony’s Johnny Cash – Official Masters collector’s tin; it just has that look and that feel.

So you pick it up and you check it out.

Saying that Johnny Cash – Official Masters is a comprehensive set would be a wildly inaccurate claim of course (the furthest forward into the singer’s career that the set ventures is 1979) but in checking out the track list, it’s obvious that this set isn’t supposed to be comprehensive; it’s supposed to be a gateway. In these twenty tracks, listeners are offered a fantastic image of Johnny Cash as working class hero and man of the people. They are, for the most part, some of the singer’s calling card songs that serve the dual purpose of acquainting the unfamiliar with the singer’s mythos and as a great road-trip sampler for long-time fans – it goes no deeper than that. For example, of course “Ring Of Fire,” “I Walk The Line,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “What’d I Say” appear here to invoke familiar images of the stoic Man In Black, but the set does not go more in depth than that (no Folsom Prison imagery, no boys named Sue, no finger wagging at the camera, and while the image is conjured the “Man In Black” isn’t here and none of the famous live cuts are present either). This move is not made to do Cash’s catalog a disservice and isn’t a matter of being careless, the tracks selected are simply the ones that would set the best image in the minds of the uninitiated as well as set the feet of old hands to tapping; whetting appetites to go back and collect a full-course meal from the archives for the willing, but also providing a decent listen for those that just want to hear a little.

Official Masters
gets that job done handily. After the bass and drums of “Jackson” and “I Walk The Line” start Cash’s favorite freight train rhythm into motion, Cash joins the assembly line of “One Piece At A Time” before heading out to the wild, wild west of “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” and “The Ballad Of Ira Haynes,” the mixture of which gives insight into Cash’s musical persona as well as the transitions that his voice and image underwent in the first quarter-century of his career.

While the set does leave a lot to be desired, it is a perfectly respectable offering. It’s true that, yes, not even all of the early hits and singles are present (given Cash released 113 singles between 1955 and 1979 alone, the paring down to twenty for this set suddenly seems understandable) but no one picking up a two-disc set is expecting a one-stop-shopping affair anyway; this is the kind of set that fans hope to get as a gift because it would’ve shown some thought in the buying and, conversely, the uninitiated (or those recently introduced to the singer) would hope for such a gift because, pound-for-pound, it’s a good place to start. Johnny Cash – Official Masters fits the dictionary definition of a ‘greatest hits’ collection because the songs contained on it are exactly that; it isn’t a collection of every hit, just a compilation of some of the most representative ones that give listeners an idea of what Johnny Cash was about.

Artist:

Johnny Cash Official website

Johnny Cash Myspace

Label:

Sony BMG online store

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