Legacy Recordings' latest release of archival Johnny Cash material is a bit of a mixed bag. Although the set is packed with goodies from the start of Cash's career, the 57 tracks on this 2-disc set cover a lot of musical territory with recordings ranging from radio appearances and early demos to non-album singles, B-sides and other rarities, resulting in a collection that ultimately lacks cohesion. If you can remove the idea of a fully-realized album from your head and view the set as a treasure chest of early recordings, you will discover that there is a lot to love here, especially if you are already a fan of The Man in Black.
The first disc kicks off with an amazing May 1955 radio broadcast from KWEM in West Memphis, Ark. featuring Cash and the Tennessee Two. Cash is a study in contrasts throughout the broadcast as he confidently plows through Wide Open Road, One More Ride and Belshazzar while coming across as stiff and uncomfortable on spoken word advertisements for Home Equipment Co., the program's sponsor and his employer at the time.
Other first-disc highlights include a series of previously unreleased and undated demos from early in Cash's career. The most notable is a reserved and plodding take on I Walk The Line that shines a new light on the origins of this soon-to-be-classic track.
The second disc is comprised almost entirely of material from Cash's first 11 years with the Columbia Records label, from 1958 to 1969, and includes an assortment of demos, B-sides and other non-album tracks. The Folk Singer, a contemplative look at the state of folk music in 1968 Cash penned with Charlie Daniels joins a cover of Bob Dylan's One Too Many Mornings and Cash's rejected theme song to the James Bond film "Thunderball" as standout tracks.