Music

Johnny Cash: The Best of Johnny Cash (20th Century Masters -- The Millenium Collection)

Andrew Gilstrap

Johnny Cash

The Best of Johnny Cash (20th Century Masters -- the Millenium Collection)

Label: 20th Century Masters -- The Millenium Collection
US Release Date: 2002-05-21
Amazon
iTunes

A quick count reveals that Johnny Cash has released around a 100 albums of original material since his humble beginnings in the '50s. Not bad, but he (or whichever record company he was under at the time) has also plundered the vaults to the tune of nearly 200 compilations, greatest hits collections, and assorted ephemera. That's a rate that would put the Who to shame.

Some of these compilations are pretty good. The recent The Essential Johnny Cash does a good job with the Sony years, and The Essential Sun Singles is well worth picking up. For those of a thematic bent, you could do far, far worse than the Murder, Love, and God collections from a few years back. For some, it's a moot point; Sony Legacy is currently in the middle of reissuing classic Cash CDs, and the diehard fan will certainly want those. For the casual fan, though, who just wants "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line" on the same CD, Cash's catalog can be a bit overwhelming.

The new kid on the block is 20th Century Masters -- The Millenium Collection: The Best of Johnny Cash. The 20th Century Masters series has always been a problematic enterprise. In the wake of label consolidations, Universal's found it to be a handy way of presenting inexpensive compilations on virtually all of their catalog artists. In some cases, it does the trick; in others, it's a futile attempt to gloss across some very deep catalogs.

With Johnny Cash, the prospect becomes even more dicey. This collection covers only his Mercury years, which were short and fairly undistinguished. Sure, 20th Century Masters has "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", and a handful of other familiar Cash tunes, but they come from a 1987 CD called Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series, which found Cash re-recording some of his classic songs. Johnny Cash songs are rarely bad, especially when they're done by Johnny Cash, but it doesn't take much work to find a collection that has definitive, original versions of many of these songs. Cash certainly doesn't phone it in on these reworkings of his vintage material, but they lack the crispness and fire of the original versions (let's face it, there's really no going back after you've heard him sing "Folsom Prison Blues" at Folsom Prison). Of the 12 songs on 20th Century Masters only three represent original material from his stint at Mercury Records.

"The Night Hank Williams Came to Town" is a humorous tale with guest vocals by Waylon Jennings. His version of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" features a brisk pace and tinkly piano, but is hardly essential. The strongest of the three "true" Mercury tracks is easily "Wanted Man" (co-written with Bob Dylan), which fits into the classic Cash mold. These glimpses of an obscure period in Cash's career, though, are obscured by the reworkings.

Cash's career has never been marked by droughts of absolutely wretched material, and every phase of his career (from Sun to Sony to Mercury to Sony again) bears something worth hearing. 20th Century Masters isn't a proper document of those Mercury years, though. It's reliance on reworked versions of songs Cash originally performed for other labels falsely implies that he really didnt do anything interesting for Mercury. It's true that Cash's Mercury years will never stand up to his years at Sun or Sony, but they weren't a complete washout. In that sense, 20th Century Masters does a disservice not only to Cash, but to fans who might unwittingly pick up this flawed collection.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

In their captivating new single, Bodies Be Rivers blur the lines between cutting-edge indie rock and shimmery dream pop.

Bodies Be Rivers began as a project between Lauren Smith and Thomas Stephanos, melding her songwriting chops with his exemplary guitar. Three years following their inception and the duo is now a full-fledged quintet that also features Summer Stephanos, Jason Lawrence, and Matt Moon. They've expanded sonically, too, with a healing sound accentuated by an ethereal blend of dreamy instrumentation and seraphic vocals.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image