Johnny Cash “Setlist” is more than mere rehashes

an early televised “I Walk The Line”

a prison rendition of  “Folsom Prison Blues”

By Bruce Sylvester

Johnny Cash’s Columbia catalog has been anthologized so many times that I initially wondered how his legacy could be helped by yet another reissue, but 14-song Setlist (Columbia/Legacy) holds its own compared to its predecessors – partly due to its obscurities (only three tracks were released in the U.S. prior to 2000) and partly due to its thought-provoking sequencing.

Sure, we’re once again getting his standards (“Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line”), but these particular renditions sometimes come from, say, 1971-72 Scandinavian shows, such as an extended “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” bringing in his tour’s Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers and June Carter Cash amid the latter-day Carter Family.

Cash’s sympathy for the fallen angels of the world took him to prison stages, but he also sang at The White House.   On a tape from a 1970 performance  for Richard Nixon at the peak of Vietnam era protests, Cash sings, “The lonesome voice of youth asks, ‘What is truth?’”   That took courage and integrity.

A word about Legacy’s multi-genre Setlist and Playlist series:  The Setlist discs (e.g., Willie Nelson, Jefferson Airplane, Cheap Trick) offer live tracks.   The Playlist discs (e.g., Dixie Chicks) are studio recordings.   Thanks to Legacy’s admirable efforts to be eco-friendly, the packaging is totally made from recycled material.   As for the discs’ downloadable notes (which saves trees as well as Legacy’s money), the Cash essay is strong but the discography is really an e-marketing effort.   My HP PC (a piece of garbage) couldn’t access the notes, but decent computers can.

About Bruce Sylvester

Bruce Sylvester is a regular contributor to Goldmine magazine.

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