Album Details

August 02, 2005
Sony Music Distribution
Country, Traditional Country, Progressive Country, Rockabilly, Country-Pop

Album Review

There have been in the neighborhood of ten CD box sets devoted to Johnny Cash, released on Columbia, Bear Family, and Collectables (this does not count overseas releases by Sony, or budget-line repackagings of three albums into one box set). Since 2000 there have been roughly 15 new major-label compilations, and that number balloons to nearly 90 comps if various and sundry two-fers, budget-line releases, and imports are factored into the equation. Add to that number the three major reissue campaigns -- Columbia/Legacy's expanded reissues of proper '60s and '70s records, Varese's series of Sun LP re-releases, and Mercury's revival of his largely overlooked '80s albums for the label -- plus the CDs released in the '80s and '90s that are still in print -- and there's not only an enormous amount of Johnny Cash music on the market, but every phase of his career is extraordinarily well documented and easily available.
With this in mind, it's initially hard to see the purpose of Columbia/Legacy's 2005 four-disc box set, The Legend. Sure, it's the first set to run the entire length of his career, from 1955 to 2002, but that statement in itself is a little misleading, suggesting that there's a significant sampling from his Rick Rubin-produced comeback recordings for American Records in the '90s, but that's not the case. In fact, there's nothing from those records, although there is a cut from the 1994 Red Hot + Country album and a smattering of other tracks he recorded in the last decade of his life included among the seven previously unreleased tracks on this 104-track box. So, this winds up being yet another repackaging of Cash's Columbia recordings, buttressed by several Sun standards ("Hey Porter," "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Luther Played the Boogie," "Get Rhythm," etc.). While this is familiar, this is by no means bad, since the music is not only good, but it's presented in an interesting manner, with each disc following a theme that's a little looser than Columbia's previous box, Love, God, Murder. Here, the first disc is called Win, Place and Show -- The Hits, the second is Old Favorites and New, the third is The Great American Songbook, and the fourth is Family and Friends. Although it's unclear what exactly separates the "hits" from the "favorites" -- if "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Get Rhythm," "Big River," and "I Got Stripes," all Top 15 country singles but all on the second disc, weren't hits, then what constitutes a hit? -- it seems that the former tends to favor funnier, poppier singles like "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "A Boy Named Sue," and "The One on the Right Is on the Left," while the latter leans toward grittier numbers and standards that never charted (but even that isn't quite right, since the dark humor of "25 Minutes to Go" is on the second disc).
In any case, both of the first two discs are good listens, filled with many of Cash's biggest hits and best songs. The third disc is similarly strong, featuring several of Cash's best readings of such standards -- recorded anywhere from 1955 to 1980, with most dating from the late '50s and '60s -- as "The Wreck of the Old 97," "Rock Island Line," "Delia's Gone," "In the Jailhouse Now," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "Time Changes Everything." However, despite a few good moments, such as his duet with Bob Dylan on "Girl from the North Country" from Nashville Skyline, the fourth disc isn't quite so compelling, largely because Johnny Cash is such an overpowering presence on record that he never made for a good duet partner. But even with the fourth disc being kind of weak, the other three are strong, which means this rivals Columbia's previous box set, 1992's The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983 as the best multi-disc retrospective of Cash's weighty career. That doesn't mean it's perfect -- that fourth disc won't be played much, some may gripe that it doesn't contain much from the '80s or '90s, and some big songs like "Five Feet High and Rising" and "The Rebel Johnny Yuma" are MIA -- but Cash recorded so much and so much of it was not only good, but popular, that it's hard to whittle it down to one set, even if it does stretch out over four discs. Overall, The Legend does a very good job presenting the biggest and best of the prime of Johnny Cash's career -- enough to make it a good comprehensive introduction for the curious who want more than what the many, many very good single- or double-disc sets have to offer, enough to make it a nice overview for the casual fan who wants one set with much of his best in one place. [The Legend was also released in a Deluxe Edition, packaged as a large, hardcover book and containing a bonus CD and DVD.]
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. I Walk the Line
  2. There You Go
  3. Home of the Blues
  4. Ballad of a Teenage Queen
  5. Guess Things Happen That Way
  6. The Ways of a Woman in Love
  7. Don't Take Your Guns to Town
  8. Ring of Fire
  9. The Matador
  10. Understand Your Man
  11. The Ballad of Ira Hayes
  12. Orange Blossom Special
  13. The One on the Right Is on the Left
  14. Rosanna's Going Wild
  15. Folsom Prison Blues
  16. Daddy Sang Blues
  17. A Boy Named Sue
  18. What Is Truth
  19. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
  20. Flesh and Blood
  21. Man in Black
  22. A Thing Called Love
  23. Kate
  24. Oney
  25. Any Old Wind That Blows
  26. One Piece at a Time
  27. (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
  28. Hey Porter
  29. Cry, Cry, Cry
  30. Luther Played the Boogie
  31. Get Rhythm
  32. Give My Love to Rose
  33. I Was There When It Happened
  34. Big River
  35. I Still Miss Someone
  36. Pickin' Time
  37. The Man on the Hill
  38. Five Feet High and Rising
  39. Tennessee Flat-Top Box
  40. I Got Stripes
  41. Troublesome Waters
  42. The Long Black Veil
  43. Dark as a Dungeon
  44. The Wall
  45. 25 Minutes to Go
  46. Cocaine Blues
  47. Doin' My Time [#]
  48. I Will Rock and Roll with You
  49. Without Love
  50. The Big Light
  51. Highway Patrolman
  52. I'm Never Gonna Roam Again [#]
  53. When I'm Gray [#]
  54. Forever Young
  55. The Wreck of the Old 97
  56. Rock Island Line
  57. Goodnight Irene
  58. Goodbye, Little Darlin'
  59. Born to Lose
  60. Walking the Blues
  61. Frankie's Man, Johnny
  62. Delia's Gone
  63. In the Jailhouse Now
  64. Waiting for a Train
  65. Casey Jones
  66. The Legend of John Henry's Hammer
  67. I've Been Working on the Railroad [#]
  68. Sweet Betsy from Pike
  69. The Streets of Laredo
  70. Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie
  71. Down in the Valley [#]
  72. Wabash Cannonball
  73. The Great Speckle Bird
  74. Wildwood Flower
  75. Cotton Fields
  76. Pick a Bale o' Cotton
  77. Old Shep
  78. I'll Be All Smiles Tonight
  79. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
  80. Time Changes Everything
  81. Keep on the Sunny Side
  82. Diamonds in the Rough
  83. (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley
  84. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)
  85. Another Man Done Gone
  86. Pick the Wildwood Flower
  87. Jackson
  88. If I Were a Carpenter
  89. Girl from the North Country
  90. One More Ride
  91. You Can't Beat Jesus Christ [#]
  92. There Ain't No Good Chain Gang
  93. We Oughta Be Ashamed
  94. Crazy Old Soldier
  95. Silver Haired Daddy of Mine
  96. Who's Gone Autry?
  97. The Night Hank Williams Came to Town
  98. I Walk the Line (Revisited)
  99. Highwayman
  100. The Wanderer
  101. September When It Comes
  102. Tears in the Holston River
  103. Far Side Banks of Jordan
  104. It Takes One to Know Me [#]
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