Johnny Cash's classic recordings for Sun have been reissued many times, and they have been issued in complete form before, most notably in Bear Family's exhaustive five-disc 1990 box set, The Man in Black: 1954-1958
. Because of this glut of product, it's easy to look at Time-Life's 2005 three-disc set, The Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958
, and wonder if it's necessary, or just a quick cash-in tied into the release of the Joaquin Phoenix
-starring 2005 biopic Walk the Line
. After all, if you're nitpicking, this doesn't even contain the complete Sun recordings -- meaning that this doesn't contain all the alternate takes and false starts that are on the Bear Family box. But if you're looking for alternate takes -- or for that matter, the fly-on-the-wall fifth disc documenting a full recording session from The Man in Black
-- you already have the Bear Family set in your library anyway and you wouldn't be interested in another complete Sun set unless it unearths forgotten recordings, which this does not. Instead, Time-Life's box does something useful: it presents one version of each of song Cash recorded at Sun in one convenient package. There are a handful of tracks that include false starts and, at times, undubbed masters are used, but if the hit version is better-known with overdubs -- as on "Guess Things Happen That Way" -- they wisely choose to use that instead. Consequently, this winds up as a useful, succinct summary of Cash's Sun recordings -- a package for the dedicated listener who doesn't need the alternate takes or the actual albums, but wants it all anyway. For that audience, this is an excellent choice.