The Essential Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s legend has only grown since his passing in 2003. Long before his death, his life had become mythic in scope; a voice of integrity and conscience, he bridged the country and rock worlds, sang to presidents and prisoners, and inspired generations, and The Essential Johnny Cash goes a long way towards sorting out his achievements. From the start, Cash’s grave baritone implied struggle and resolve, lending gravity to whatever he attempted. “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” touch the extremes of devotion and temptation; “Man in Black” and “Song of the Patriot” express America’s disappointment and promise. As his career progressed, Cash strived to cross boundaries between genres and age groups, turning Bob Dylan tunes like “It Ain’t Me Babe” into unlikely country hits and teaming up with U2 for 1993’s “The Wanderer.” The tracks in this anthology capture his abiding faith (“Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”), moral courage (“The Ballad of Ira Hayes”), and folksy humor (“Jackson,” “A Boy Named Sue”). The inclusion of tracks from his celebrated American Recordings series would’ve made this package complete. Even so, this well-selected anthology does right by the Man in Black’s memory.