Johnny Cash – [CD/DVD]

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The truth is that some compilations just don't need to have a bunch of bells, whistles, updates and whatever else a record label can dream up and attach to it; sometimes the music just has to have been good all along to move a few units. That's what the Deluxe Edition of Johnny Cash's The Number Ones illustrates easily; all the biggest songs the singer ever recorded – the ones which really made him a legend – are here and are ready to inspire a whole new crop of listeners, and then there's also a DVD included (because saying it's “tacked on” sounds crass) with some material for those who insist on their being some extras present to be of interest (though that is certainly not the case).

In the case of The Number Ones, trying to compose a review which does more than simply list the titles of the songs included is a bit of a chore because each track is an unimpeachable classic which should be exempt from criticism. The list of hits is huge; here, listeners get “I Walk The Line,” “There You Go,” “What Do I Care,” “Ring Of Fire,” “Boy Named Sue” and “Folsom Prison Blues” to name only the smallest imaginable number, digitally tidied (but not overly so) to make every microtone seem as though it was recorded yesterday. That re-mixing/mastering job really brings some sounds which had been a bit muddy before (like the humming that Cash did at the beginning of each verse on “I Walk The Line”) into perfect relief and listeners will find themselves reveling in the material excitedly all over again because of that treatment; they do sound perfectly renewed.

The problem with this set (and, really, saying as much is the height of desperately trying to find something to complain about) lies squarely on the DVD disc included with the Deluxe Edition release of The Number Ones. The DVD disc attached features a set of ten performances that Johnny Cash did for The Johnny Cash Show which ran on ABC from 1969 to 1971 (and was ultimately cancelled when ABC, CBS and NBC all purged the rural content from their programming schedules), but were never broadcast. Looking at them now is a little difficult because it's impossible to tell how genuine the performances are; whether they were lip-synched for show or genuine performances. Because there was no precedent set for such programming in the early Seventies (NBC wouldn't air the first episode of Saturday Night Live until 1975), both are totally possible but, if they were actually live, they are a glowing endorsement of Cash's faculties as a performer; each of the ten tracks included (but particularly the performance of “A Boy Named Sue” – which has the added benefit of some deviation from the track as it was recorded for an album) stand out as excellent expositions of the sound and performance (if they're live, Cash's performance was very literally better and more consistent than Memorex).

Even with the nagging questions of how “live” the performances on Disc Two are though, there's no question that The Number Ones successfully brings together a set of classic songs which should be requisite listening for everyone on Earth. That point is manifest in the fact that each has dominated the popular imagination of music aficionados for decades and continue to inspire new fans to this day. That each song is a source of inspiration is why this set exists, and why it would be wise for the uninitiated to take advantage of it.



The Number Ones
is out now, in both Deluxe and standard formats. Buy it here on Amazon .

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