This spate of repackaged material (with more to come) smartly underscores Johnny Cash's irreplaceable value and brings fresh focus to songs both familiar and forgotten.
The refurbished 1969 San Quentin LP contains 8 remarkable previously unreleased tracks, which fans have waited too long to hear. Moreover, this release documents the precise moment when the Man In Black became a bona fide American icon. Alternating off-the-cuff profanity with gospel sincerity, Cash identifies with his audience's dark thirsts while trying to point them towards salvation in song. No other artist has ever worked this type of balancing act with such understanding and authority.
Cash charges through some Sun era rockabilly, reprises a few Columbia hits and even tests out some new material, most notably one of his classic hits Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." Fresh from the "Nashville Skyline" sessions, Bob Dylan contributes the brazen "Wanted Man," which is topped by convict Tim Cuttie's soul-searing ballad "I Don't Know Where I'm Bound." The execution is not always perfect, but a strong thread of rebel spirit and anti-authoritarian humor runs through the entire show.
If looking for the one set which truly personifies his talents and appeal, the San Quentin set is the best introduction to the world of Johnny Cash.