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Here we have Johnny Cash’s early Columbia recordings, released between 1958 and 1962 they are from a period Cash was as quoted in Roger Dopson’s liner notes competing with releases from his old label, Sun Records. He may not have pulled up many trees for Columbia, but the seeds were being sown and respect built on both sides. How many artists were given such a free reign as Cash was during the ensuing years (as he recorded concept albums Blood, Sweat And Tears, Bitter Tears, Ballad Of The True West, From Sea To Shinning Sea, The Holy Land and his live albums from Folsom Prison and San Quentin).
Back to the record, comprising of 32 songs the listener has more than enough to satisfy them. Although not all tracks are perfectly suited to the Man In Black as originals are joined by material from George Jones (“Seasons Of My Heart”, Hank Thompson (“Honky Tonk Girl”), Harlan Howard (“Busted“), Jay Livingston – Ray Evans’ “Bonanza” and another Merle Travis song about working in the coal mines; “Loading Coal” and Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now”.
Among his own songs you have the interestingly put together gospel cum prison song “Goin’ To Memphis” (that comes complete with well suited gospel soul filled harmonies), “I Still Miss Someone” and a version of “Frankie And Johnny” (listed here as “Frankie’s Man, Johnny”) and his much loved, “Forty Shades Of Green". Plus ever popular perennial “Tennessee Flat Top Box”, and he also does an interesting, if slightly subdued version Huddie Ledbetter’s folk tune “Pick A Bale Of Cotton”.
His covers of gospel (“There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley” where you can hear the wonderful Anita Carter in the background, and with Cash’s slow measured tones it possesses a sombre feel; the feel is carried through the following track “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”, and with more from Carter and sisters, Helen and June it has a special meaning to it.
Rounding off the compilation you have Cash’s own “Send A Picture Of Mother” (the Carter Family's influence stretches beyond harmony vocals to the introduction of auto-harp) and “I Got Stripes” plus a song inspired from his childhood days, “Five Feet High And Rising” there is more than sufficient to demand more than just a casual look at the record.
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