Thursday, March 05, 2009

Johnny Cash - Original Sun Singles '55-'58

Johnny Cash
Original Sun Singles ’55-‘58

Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line, Big River, Cry Cry Cry, Ballad of a Teenage Queen, Get Rhythm, Luther Played the Boogie, Give My Love to Rose - admittedly, these songs have been anthologized a gazillion times before. Johnny Cash comps are as common as churches in small Southern towns, after all. But a lot of care has gone into Original Sun Singles ’55-‘58, from the nice audio and brace of lesser-known classics (Guess Things Happen That Way, Katy Too, I Just Thought You’d Like to Know, Next in Line) to the informative liner notes and cool cover. Besides, when you’re taking a spin in the hardtop, are you really gonna rummage through the box sets, or do you want to just grab a single disk of essential early Man in Black and ride on? Plus, this is a handy way to introduce a newbie (I can’t imagine who hasn’t heard Cash by now – some newborn, I guess) to the glory that was and is the 50s Cash. The stripped-to-the-bone arrangements (notwithstanding some gang vocals later on), the great songs (almost all of them originals, but some excellent Charlie Rich tunes as well), the deep baritone in its prime, before speed took its toll – this is the primo shit, not only in Cash’s career but in American music in general. If you want to mainline the Cash legacy prior to his long (and often brilliant) stint at Columbia and American, this is the way to do it.

- Michael Toland

Jerry Lee Lewis - Original Sun Singles '56-'60

Jerry Lee Lewis
Original Sun Singles ’56-'60

Along with Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the original wild men of rock & roll. Not the safe, easily packaged/sanitized version presented by Elvis Presley, whose allegedly potent sexuality comes across more as naughty than actually lewd, but a guy you really wouldn’t want to leave alone with your daughter. I do my little boogie-woogie every day, he leers in Lewis Boogie – whatever it means, it sounds unsavory. And that’s the Jerry Lee captured on Original Sun Singles ’56-'60, which is just what it’s billed. Mixing his great rockabilly masterpieces (Great Balls of Fire, Breathless, Big Blon’ Baby, the immortal Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On) with glimpses of his future as a country star (You Win Again, Crazy Arms, I Could Never Be Ashamed of You), this disk collects the work that permanently enshrined Lewis and his pumping piano in the rock & roll firmament. Creeping Nashville production on Baby, Baby, Bye Bye and an oddly anemic take on Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie start to sap his strength near the end, but he rallies for an almost deranged run through Chuck WillisHang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes. Even though he loudly proclaims he don’t wanna hang up them shoes, he did not long after (thanks to his bad habit of marrying 13-year-old cousins and Middle America’s rejection of same) and settled into a long career as a C&W iconoclast. That a whole 'nother story, and it's a pretty good one, but the tale told here is the one that ultimately counts.

- Michael Toland
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