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'The Essential Johnny Cash'

November 26, 2012 - Mike Donahey
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

That is how the late Cash introduced himself and he didn’t change for a crowd at California’s Folsom Prison. He followed a few seconds later, fittingly, with a rousing “Folsom Prison Blues.” The cut is just one of 36 on “The Essential Johnny Cash” a two-disc CD.

I’d been interested in Cash since I saw him perform on television years ago, but never purchased any of his albums or CD's until now. (However, my wife and I were impressed with the film “Walk the Line” — based on Cash’s life — that we bought the DVD). "Essential" contains many of Cash’s well-known hits such as “I Walk the Line,” “Get Rhythm” “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue.” The songs have been re-mastered from the originals and are on high quality Columbia-produced discs.

Also included are duets with late wife June Carter Cash “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and “Jackson.” He is joined by Bob Dylan on “Girl from the North Country” (written by Dylan as was “It Ain’t Me Babe”). Also working with Cash on several cuts are the late Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Marty Robbins.

Cash fans know he was an Arkansas native who grew up poor and estranged from his father. His first wife didn’t want him to pursue a career in music but he forged ahead. After many years of hard work, he became a country music star. With stardom, however, came bouts with drugs and alcohol, which he eventually conquered. (The "Walk” film didn’t sugar coat his struggles with those demons).

In time, he earned the respect of not only country musicians, but gospel, rock n' roll and others. “There’s nobody remotely like him,” said musician Elvis Costello. “There’s nobody that has voice like him; there’s nobody that can sing the things he does.” “Essential" is well worth the price — and one does not have to be a country fan to appreciate Cash’s talents. His songs about love, patriotism, toil and troubles can be understood by all.



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