Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

Love God Murder

Sony Legacy

You won’t hear him on C&W radio, but it’s safe to say that without Johnny Cash, country music wouldn’t have become as popular a force in music as it is today. An inspiration for countless musicians (including old Sun labelmate Elvis Presley, who recognized Cash’s talent early on), Cash’s staggering, nearly 50-year career has made him a living legend for at least half of that time. If he never records another song, which is likely, his timeless music will be an inspiration for generations of musicians.

Looking back on almost five decades of songs, Cash realized the majority of his work fell into three major categories; God, Love and Murder. Late last year, he set about compiling his favorite songs in those groups, and the stunning results are now available on three separate discs, which may also be purchased packaged together in a snazzy box complete with nifty rub-on tattoos. It’s not a traditional Best Of (1992’s triple CD Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983 box set took care of that), and therein lies the beauty of the collection. By interspersing some hits like “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” and “I Still Miss Someone” (all from Love), with obscurities of exemplary value, the set gives us a unique portrait of this country icon. Additionally, lovingly written and incisive liner notes penned by Bono (God), June Carter Cash (Love) and especially Quentin Tarantino (Murder – what else?) afford depth and understanding to Cash’s work, and provide a historical context for each genre’s songs. The discs all feature 16 tracks and clock in at an average of 45 minutes — a little on the slim side, but as they’re retailing at a discounted price, it’s tough to complain.

Sequenced by the artist, the albums position songs recorded decades apart next to each other, and in so doing, endow the tunes with even more intensity. Murder kicks off appropriately with “Folsom Prison Blues” from 1955, and smoothly segues into 1993’s “Delia’s Gone,” making for a heartbreaking and fascinating transition of tracks recorded nearly forty years apart. Cash digs deep into his catalog on Love to dredge up obscurities such as “All Over Again,” a rare 1958 B-side previously known only to collectors, and 1964’s “My Old Faded Rose,” which has never been given a US release until now. These songs not only suit the album’s title, but are of outstanding quality, and are revealing insights into the man, even for non-Cash aficionados. God reveals “The Man in White” and “Oh Come, Angel Band,” two tunes from tiny labels which might have easily, and sadly, been lost to time without their inclusion here.

As Cash explains in the liner notes to God with touching self-examination, “At times, I’m a voice crying in the wilderness, but at times I’m right on the money and know what I’m singing about.” Both points are poignantly proven on these three discs. Fans already familiar with the work of Johnny Cash, or those new to his art, will revel in these outstanding collections. They’re the perfect testament and career overview to one of America’s most enduring and unflinchingly honest artists of any genre.

Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022

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