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Johnny Cash

The Legend – 2005 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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In May 1955, Johnny Cash went into Sun Studios to record his first single, "Cry, Cry, Cry"/"Hey Porter." The single came out a month later, beginning a career that would take Cash from the White House to the jailhouse, from the southland to the Holy land and a thousand places besides. Columbia's latest Cash collection commemorates the 50th anniversary of that inaugural event with a 4-disc set that draws from the length and breadth of his career, from Sun to American. (There's also a pricey, deluxe, limited edition that adds a hardcover book, a DVD drawing on a 1980 Cash TV special and a CD of the first radio appearance by Cash and the Tennessee Two).

The set is organized thematically, with discs devoted to his top hits, other Cash favorites, the American Songbook (or certain corners of it - traditional songs and covers of the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Leadbelly, Hank Williams and Bob Wills) and collaborations, the bulk with his wife and other Carters, but also with Dylan, Jennings, Kristofferson and others. It's a successful approach to the daunting task of attempting to encapsulate a recording career as lengthy and wide-ranging as Cash's and offers a better-than-brief introduction to that career for someone looking for that.

To entice the Cashophile who's heard it all before, there's seven previously unreleased tracks. And given that those tracks are all drawn from what "The Legend" producer Greg Geller labels the "House of Cash" tapes - hundreds of tapes, left behind by Cash, of demos, outtakes, tapes sent by fans and by radio stations, recordings of live events, the accumulation of a musical giant's lifetime - those tracks are as much teaser as enticement.