Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Sundazed's Johnny Cash Reissues

Johnny Cash’s first recordings for Sun Records weren’t too different from Elvis Presley’s. They were basically acoustic pieces of county music with a bit of twangy, tangy electric guitar and Rock & Roll rhythm, but while Elvis already sounded like he was pitching his star power across the theater, Johnny sounded like he was perched next to a creek serenading the carp. Both made great Sun Records, but there is a special allure to Johnny Cash’s lonesome country boy aura that the pretty boy usually couldn’t match (no matter how spooky Elvis’s “Blue Moon” is). Even the dude who wrote the liner notes to Cash’s debut album, 1957’s Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!, was tuned in to this quality, noting Cash’s “big, hollow voice” and—with no shortage of p.r. hyperbole—suggesting that one might think Cash “invented the word” “loneliness.” However, we shouldn’t cry, cry, cry for Johnny Cash, as he exudes solitary strength across a debut album that surely ranks among the best. He’s already composing seasoned classics like “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues”, while also arguably cutting the definitive version of the immortal and much covered “Rock Island Line”. Not bad for a first go.

Seven years later, Cash was wrapping up his stint at Sun, and the label marked his exit with a compilation called The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash, which largely consisted of previously uncompiled items. While it wasn’t as consistently powerful as Hot and Blue—the misogynistic “Two Timin’ Woman” sounds like everyone whacked their instruments out of tune before the tape rolled—it is an excellent commemoration of Cash’s inaugural era, with the sparkling “Always Alone”, a rare interpretation of “Goodnight Irene” that actually sounds like a lullaby, “Wide Open Road”, which sounds like music for swooning under palm trees to, and the disturbingly bleak “Born to Lose”, on which Cash produces his most lugubrious tones.

Sundazed Records is reissuing Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! and The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash as part of a larger Cash-reissue campaign, and though the method of these transfers is somewhat mysterious (labels on the covers indicate that they are “the original sun masters,” but no word on whether the process was analog or digital) they sound great, with tremendous depth and clarity radiating from remarkably quiet vinyl. 
At the Sundazed Store:
Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!  
The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash
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