Johnny Cash was part rockabilly rebel, part campfire storyteller, part outlaw in black. Cash made country and rockabilly history on the Sun label in the 1950s. During the '60s, the ruggedly charismatic Cash rose to superstardom, ending the decade with both his marriage to June Carter and his own television show. In the '90s, Cash began his highly successful and acclaimed AMERICAN RECORDINGS series, reaching a new audience with an amazingly diverse set of songs, ranging from traditional tunes to alternative rock covers. With his lean, angular sound and hearty, passionate baritone, Cash forged one of the most unique styles in all of popular music, one that delved into gospel, folk, and rock, but also remained the essence of country music. Four months after his wife died, Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003. And in 2005, the Oscar-nominated biopic WALK THE LINE brought Cash's music and legend to his largest audience yet.
There are several Cash boxes available, but The Legend--spanning the years 1955-2002 but concentrating on his long tenure at Columbia and, to a lesser degree, his beginnings at Sun--probably belongs at the top of the list. Cash's greatest strengths are dramatized on these four, thematically programmed discs: Win, Place and Show: The Hits; Old Favorites and New; The Great American Songbook (mostly traditional songs); and Family and Friends (collaborations). For starters, consider the staggering depth and breadth of his repertoire (perhaps matched only by those of Bob Dylan and Ray Charles), embracing ancient folk tunes ("Streets of Laredo"), teen pop ("Ballad of a Teenage Queen"), mature contemporary rock ("Highway Patrolman"), gospel ("Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"), topical fare ("Ballad of Ira Hayes"), country standards ("Time Changes Everything"), novelties ("One Piece at a Time"), and more. Then there's the way his spare, spacious sound opens up to take in horns ("Ring of Fire"), strings ("Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"), anything. The Legend includes seven previously unissued sides, most prominently "It Takes One to Know Me," a stirring salute to his wife June. --John Morthland
NOTE: There is also a deluxe limited edition of The Legend, featuring a lithograph, a bonus disc, and a DVD, and housed in a 120-page, 12" x 16" hardcover book.
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