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Country - Released May 1, 1968 | Columbia - Legacy

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Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash's legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail. Surely, this dark outlaw stance wasn't a contrivance but it was an exaggeration, with Cash creating this image by tailoring his set list to his audience of prisoners, filling up the set with tales of murder and imprisonment -- a bid for common ground with the convicts, but also a sly way to suggest that maybe Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Given the cloud of death that hangs over the songs on At Folsom Prison, there's a temptation to think of it as a gothic, gloomy affair or perhaps a repository of rage, but what's striking about Cash's performance is that he never romanticizes either the crime or the criminals: if anything, he underplays the seriousness with his matter-of-fact ballad delivery or how he throws out wry jokes. Cash is relating to the prisoners and he's entertaining them too, singing "Cocaine Blues" like a bastard on the run, turning a death sentence into literal gallows humor on "25 Minutes to Go," playing "I Got Stripes" as if it were a badge of pride. Never before had his music seemed so vigorous as it does here, nor had he tied together his humor, gravity, and spirituality in one record. In every sense, it was a breakthrough, but more than that, At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Johnny Cash album, the place where his legend burns bright and eternal. [This Expanded Edition of At Folsom Prison added three bonus tracks to the songs included in the original 16-track LP.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released January 1, 1994 | American Recordings

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Country - Released November 3, 1958 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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The Fabulous Johnny Cash was Cash's first album for Columbia Records and one of his best for the label. Unlike some of his latter-day albums, there wasn't much filler on the record. At the time of its recording, Cash had just been freed from his contract with Sun. Instead of recording these songs for his last Sun sessions, he wound up saving much of his best material for his Columbia album, and that's what makes The Fabulous so consistent. The album builds on his basic, spare sound, but it is slightly more polished than his Sun records. But what makes it so entertaining are the songs themselves. From "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" and "Frankie's Man, Johnny" to "Pickin' Time" and "The Troubador," the album is filled with first-rate songs, with only a handful of mediocre songs like "Suppertime," which don't distract from the overall quality of the album at all. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released October 1, 1964 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Though on the surface Bitter Tears is just another installment in the seemingly endless series of Americana albums that Johnny Cash released in the '60s, it was a more daring collection than any of its predecessors or successors. Where Cash's previous Americana albums had previously concentrated on cowboys and Western pioneers, Bitter Tears is all about Native Americans and their trials and tribulations. It isn't a crass move -- it's a sensitive, clear-eyed take on the unfair treatment of the American Indian that uses traditional folk ballads and newly written songs in the same vein. It's stark and moving, his best Americana album of the '60s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released January 1, 2002 | American Recordings

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Produced by Rick Rubin, Johnny Cash’s legendary American recordings are not only among his major musical statements, but also its moving final will. Released in November 2002, American IV – The Man Comes Around is the last volume of the collection that was released while Cash was still alive (He passed away 10 months after its release). Using the famous “cover” recipe, Johnny Cash managed in this record to turn other musicians’ compositions, sometimes recent work, into his own unique style. Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, and Sting are all covered, and when listening to Cash’s rendition of their songs it is sometimes difficult to recall their original versions. As usual, Rubin’s work on the soundboard is devoted to Johnny Cash’s voice. Caught it its last whispers, the voice is haunting, yet never morose.Indeed, the voice is key in “American IV”.  The material can bring chills (the video clip of Hurt is deeply moving and, after listening to the track, Trent Reznor proclaimed “It’s like I have lost my girlfriend. This song doesn’t belong to me anymore…”), Give My Love To Rose evokes a sadness that is a strike at the heart, and I Hung My Head expresses an innocence that is profoundly tender. Even when he deals with the classic repertoire of country music, many that he recorded in the past (Sam Hall, Give My Love To Rose, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Streets of Laredo, Danny Boy) the Man in Black brings to his interpretation the sorrow and sensitivity of his dying condition, always with grace and dignity. A sad yet festive funeral, the record includes many featured guest artists: Fiona Apple and Nick Cave sing, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marty Stuart strum their guitars, old partner Cowboy Jack Clement pulls out his dobro, Joey Waronker abandons Beck and Air to join in the rhythm section, and Benmont Tench brings in an array of keyboards including an organ, harmonium, Mellotron, vibraphone and even a Wurlitzer. Music lovers from all over the world recognized what a masterpiece American IV – The Man Comes Around had been created, and its reception led it to be a gold record, which was Johnny Cash’s first in thirty years. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Country - Released June 4, 1969 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and Johnny Cash discovered the stage of the San Quentin State Prison. The Man In Black, the man who wore only black for the prisoners, the poor, the needy, the elderly and the sick. He who always rubbed shoulders with people living in misery, he − the rebel of Nashville, the pioneer of outlaws − always brought together very disparate audiences. In 1968, the legend married June Carter of the famous Carter Family. It was a genuine and sincere love that led her to follow her husband on their honeymoon, which consisted of extensive tours and a series of concerts in prisons. This idea came to Cash in California with the song At Folsom Prison, and a year later he played the legendary show at San Quentin. He was just 37 years old at the time, but his face already looked tired by the time of this 31st album, something which was not helped by his various addictions and other vices. Regardless, this is no doubt one of the major works of Country music and comes with a unique archive of images captured by the British channel Granada. Cash was king in the land of the madmen. All listened ceremoniously, respected him, and a striking bond was developed. The Man in Black was in his element. Accompanied by Carl Perkins on the guitar, even June joined him on Darlin’ Companion, slightly intimidated by the situation. Symbolically opening with Wanted Man, the track selection spoke to the inmates. Wild applause, shouts of joy, or conversely complete silence, Johnny Cash’s charm was inscrutable. Provocative and gifted with a great sense of humour, he was at times censored with “beeps” and didn’t shy away from playing a risky new song specially composed for the occasion: San Quentin. “San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me… San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.” This was followed by a chilling Shel Silverstein composition titled A Boy Named Sue, which Cash sang for the very first time, the lyrics absolutely delighting the crowd. It was a bloody and dark style of Country music reminiscent of Eddie Noack’s Psycho or the Louvin Brothers’ Knoxville Girl. During this concert Cash talked almost as much as he sang, connecting with the inmates, and closing the magical event with the wild vibrations of Folsom Prison Blues. © Clara Bismuth/Qobuz
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Country - Released January 1, 2003 | American Recordings

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Country - Released March 25, 2014 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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If Out Among the Stars had come out when its sessions were completed, it would've appeared sometime in 1984, arriving between 1983's flinty Johnny 99 and 1985's slippery, sentimental Rainbow. Allegedly, this album -- discovered by Legacy and John Carter Cash during some archival work in 2012 -- was shelved because its Billy Sherrill production was just a little bit too pop for Johnny Cash's taste, but that reasoning isn't sound, particularly with the Chips Moman-produced crossover of sugar of Rainbow taken into consideration. Moman had been riding high on the hits he produced for Willie Nelson -- notably "Always on My Mind," Willie's last great crossover smash -- and he applied a similar heavy-handed touch to Cash, who at that point was several years away from his last Country Top 10 hit ("The Baron" went to 10 in 1981). Sherrill had a lighter touch with Cash than Moman, something that might surprise listeners who associate his name with his symphonic, string-heavy productions for George Jones, but the producer winds up simply sweetening Johnny without changing his core sound. Comprised of sessions from 1981 and 1984, Out Among the Stars is generally chipper and bright, containing a couple of spare, reflective moments -- the sentimental "After All," the June Carter Cash bluegrass duet "Don't You Think It's Come Our Time," and "I Came to Believe," the gospel-ish closer that ambles along nicely -- that add a little dimension to a cheerful album. "Out Among the Stars" nicely updates the signature Cash train-track rhythm, a cover of the Dave Edmunds/Carlene Carter duet "Baby Ride Easy" rolls along with spirit, Cash yucks it up with Waylon Jennings on a cover of the Hank Snow standard "I'm Movin' On," and "I Drove Her Out of My Mind" conjures some of the old outlaw magic. Every one of these seem like they could have some kind of potential on the charts, so the fact they were shelved is a bit of a mystery because, when taken together -- despite misguided novelties like "If I Told You Who It Was" -- it adds up to one of Cash's stronger '80s albums. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released May 26, 1971 | Legacy Recordings

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Country - Released September 1, 1983 | Columbia Nashville

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If the Springsteen tunes hadn't been included, this would still have been a good album. But Cash sinks his teeth into "Highway Patrolman" and the title tune and gives them the guts that Springsteen only dreamed of. ~ Jim Worbois
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Country - Released February 15, 1965 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Even if the best and most popular songs on this 1965 album are the ones most likely to show up on greatest-hits compilations ("The Long Black Veil, "Orange Blossom Special," "It Ain't Me Babe"), it certainly rates as one of Cash's finer non-greatest-hits releases. If nothing else, it would have historical importance for the inclusion of three Bob Dylan covers, at a time when Dylan was just starting to get heavily covered by pop musicians (and not often covered by country ones). "It Ain't Me Babe," with duet vocals by June Carter, was the most notable of them, although hearing it these days, some may be taken aback by the mariachi horns. Ditto for "Mama, You Been on My Mind" (which Dylan himself had not released when Cash recorded it), where it's startling to hear Boots Randolph's yakety sax come in for a bit. "The Long Black Veil," though, is an ageless classic, and the title cut one of his best train-oriented songs. The rest of the album is respectable and diverse, if not as outstanding, and includes the stark Cash original "You Wild Colorado," more duet vocals from Carter on the Johnny Horton cover "When It's Springtime in Alaska," a bouncy rendition of the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower," the spiritual "Amen," and, less successfully, a sentimental reading of "Danny Boy." The 2002 CD reissue adds three bonus tracks that were previously unavailable in the United States (and had been included on the Bear Family box set The Man in Black: 1963-1969), among them an acoustic cover of A.P. Carter's "Engine 143" and a different version of "Mama, You Been on My Mind" (this time with mariachi horns!). ~ Richie Unterberger
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Country - Released January 1, 1960 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Country - Released September 1, 1959 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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One of Cash's earlier pseudo-concept albums, this doesn't exactly follow a specific theme like farming or hymns of the American land the whole way through. Rather, it's a collection of a dozen songs that generally are on the folkier and more Americana-centered side of Cash's repertoire, though of course such songs have always had a prominent place in his material. He bagged the songwriting credits for all but one of the songs on Songs of Our Soil, skillfully relaying tales of drinking, disastrous farm flooding ("Five Feet High and Rising"), the vicious circle of sharecropping ("The Man on the Hill"), death and burial ("The Caretaker"), Native Americana ("Old Apache Squaw"), and spiritual-like piety ([RoviLink="MC"]"It Could Be You [Instead of Him]"[/RoviLink]). The death-in-the-desert tale of "Hank and Joe and Me" might get unintentionally camp with its rather jaunty depiction (complete with gospel-like backup choral vocals) of the narrator dying of thirst on a quest for gold. Although "J. Cash" gets the songwriting credit for "I Want to Go Home," in fact it's his version of the homesick sailor folk tale more commonly known as "Sloop John B," recorded elsewhere by the Weavers, the Kingston Trio, the Beach Boys, and others. It's a good set, though pretty short at 26 minutes, and lacking the hits or classics that decorate some of his other vaguely Americana concept albums. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Country - Released November 14, 1963 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Country - Released September 1, 1965 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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One of the projects Johnny Cash wanted to do when he was on Sun Records was to record an album of songs from the Old West. Of course, Sam Phillips wouldn't hear of it, but the idea -- along with concept albums of gospel, train songs, and others -- all came to fruition when he moved to Columbia Records. This concept album is a 20-track set that combines songs and narrations, the bulk of which were recorded in 1965 (the lone exception is Carl Perkins' "The Ballad of Boot Hill," which originates from a 1959 session). The booklet includes Johnny's original liner notes to the album, along with song-by-song comments. One of Cash's best concept albums. ~ Cub Koda
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Country - Released September 1, 1960 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Ride This Train was the first explicit Americana concept album that Johnny Cash recorded. As the title implies, the album is about railroads, how they developed, and how they changed the land. Apart from a couple of songs, Ride This Train isn't comprised of traditional folk ballads -- they are songs that tell the history of trains and rails, offering an educational lesson. Cash expounds on the songs with brief spoken narratives. Though it is hard to fault Cash's intentions, the songs aren't very good (although "The Shifting Whispering Sands" is a standout) and the history is a bit simplistic and silly. On the whole, Ride This Train sounds as if it were of a piece with the Walt Disney educational features produced at the same time, and like those films, it is more interesting as an historical artifact than a piece of art. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released January 1, 2010 | American Recordings

Released for the occasion of Johnny Cash's 78th birthday, American VI: Ain't No Grave is the final installment in the collaboration between Cash and Rick Rubin that began with 1994’s American Recordings. These ten songs were cut during the same sessions for American V: A Hundred Highways. Guitarists Mike Campbell, Matt Sweeney, Smokey Hormel, and Benmont Tench on keyboards were present, as were other musicians. June Carter Cash died during routine surgery during these sessions. Cash, though grief stricken and with full knowledge that he too was dying due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, worked as often as his health would allow. He died three months after these songs were recorded. Ain't No Grave is an elegiac and deeply spiritual album, a formal goodbye without regret from a man and an artist of almost mythic stature. The song selection is rooted in the Americana, folk, country, and gospel traditions. There is an excellent reading of Tom Paxton's “Wonder Where I’m Bound” that doesn’t feel as lost as the original, but more a statement after reflecting on a life fully lived. Likewise his version of Sheryl Crow's “Redemption Day” sums up Cash’s own long commitment to social justice, and the need for individual accountability; its statement of hope is underscored here not as a dream, but as a conviction. Kris Kristofferson's “For the Good Times” begins with the words: “Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over/But life goes on/And this ole world will keep on turning.” It offers a portrait of the dignity and grace Cash performed with all his life. “I Corinthian’s 15:55” is his last self-penned song, a sweet, country-gospel melody that echoes far beyond the margins of contemporary music to an earlier time, and looks at the future with unshakable faith. The title track is a country-gospel-blues by Brother Claude Ely -- it’s a fierce showdown with the Reaper, with the singer winning it hands down. There are excellent covers of Bob Nolan's “Cool Water,” a song Cash often sang live that expresses empathy for the downtrodden, and “Satisfied Mind,” written by Jack Rhodes and Red Hayes, played on a lone acoustic guitar, which dispenses the truth of earthly life into two-minutes-and-forty-eight seconds. Ed McCurdy's “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” is a true anti-war song that serves as a testimonial. The album’s final cut is Queen Liliuokalani's traditional Hawaiian ballad “Aloha Oe,” one of the sweetest, most affectionate leaving songs ever written. And Cash’s version? It’s devastatingly beautiful; to the point of tears. If there were any justice, Ain't No Grave would be the last album released under Cash’s name. It is not only a compelling contribution to his legacy, but an offering that closes the historic American Recordings series with the same stamp of quality that began it. ~ Thom Jurek
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Country - Released April 8, 2011 | Mercury Records

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Country - Released February 12, 2002 | Columbia - Legacy

Issued in commemoration of Cash's 70th birthday, this double CD is a good survey of 1955-1993 career highlights (and a different release than the similarly titled three-CD The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983). Is it a good place to start? That depends on what you have or don't have already, considering that so many greatest-hits compilations containing some or much of this material appeared prior to this, yet another repackage. All of his very biggest hits are here, and it leans very heavily on his first 15 years of recordings, with just eight of the 36 tracks postdating 1970 (and only one of them, his 1993 U2 collaboration "The Wanderer," postdating 1986). For that reason some may complain that it doesn't give some phases of his career proper weight, and certainly not evenly distributed weight. But let's be cold about this: Cash's best records were between 1955 and 1970, and focusing on his early work, as this compilation does, means higher overall quality. It's too bad nothing is included from his acclaimed, unadorned 1994 album, American Recordings, but otherwise this will serve as a quite satisfactory best-of for those who want both the familiar hits and a few good, not-so-overplayed ones, like his versions of "It Ain't Me Babe," "Jackson," and "If I Were a Carpenter." ~ Richie Unterberger
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Country - Released August 6, 1963 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

Technically, Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash isn't a greatest-hits collection, but it does contain a number of his greatest performances and singles, including "Ring of Fire," "I Still Miss Someone," and "The Rebel -- Johnny Yuma." These are supported by solid originals ("Forty Shades of Green," "I'd Still Be There," "Tennessee Flat-Top Box") and covers ([RoviLink="MC"]"[There'll Be] Peace in the Valley,"[/RoviLink] "Bonanza"), which help make the record one of Cash's best. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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Johnny Cash in the magazine
  • Cash Behind Bars
    Cash Behind Bars In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and Johnny Cash discovered the stage of the San Quentin State Prison.
  • Bitter Tears
    Bitter Tears Fifty years ago, the Man in Black sang the story of the American Indian nation...
  • The Qobuz Minute #1
    The Qobuz Minute #1 The first edition of The Qobuz Minute in English - 5 unmissable releases and as much music news as we can fit into 5 minutes.