The Essential Johnny Cash
Part of Sony Legacy's ambitious, much-deserved reissue campaign in honor of Johnny Cash's 70th birthday, The Essential Johnny Cash arrives as a two-CD collection of 36 songs ranging from the Man in Black's first Sun hit, "Hey Porter," to his 1993 collaboration with U2 on "The Wanderer." So consider Essential a sort of Johnny Cash Rosetta Stone; an album filled with tracks that help music lovers understand the daunting range of Cash's art. As a songwriter and interpreter, he has been the master of all he embraces -- and he has embraced a whole lot: folk, traditional country, gospel (the monumental "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)"), rockabilly from the Sun era, western songs, topical songs ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes"), protest songs, patriotic songs, love songs, heartbreak songs (has there been a more vivid account of a forlorn soul than "I Still Miss Someone"?), and duets (with June Carter Cash, Bob Dylan, and Marty Robbins -- the latter being an overlooked gem, a salute to solid American values in "Song of the Patriot"). While future reissues will restore to print ten Cash albums previously unavailable on CD -- two rare and underrated Cash titles were reissued in December 2001: America and Ragged Old Flag -- Essential lives up to its name, especially for those who might be unfamiliar with the full scope of this treasured artist's monumental contribution to American music for nearly half a century.