08/17/05
Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

In the past month or so there have been several monumental multi-disc anthologies released. This week we're rotating three unique box sets from an equally diverse collection of revered American musical icons.


Count Basie -- Complete Clef/Verve Fifties Studio Recordings (Mosaic Records)

Spread over eight CDs The Complete Clef/Verve Fifties Studio Recordings provide nearly 150 examples of why the critics loudly proclaimed Basie's post-Swing combo as the "New Testament" band. He incorporated the input of a host of other arrangers and "A-List" performers. Folks such as Neal Hefti and Ernie Wilkins, as well as Joe Newman (trumpet), Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (tenor sax), Johnny Mandel (trumpet), Thad Jones (trumpet), and Eddie Jones (bass) all passed through the Basie line-up during the decade. Plus, when Joe Williams (vocals) was in the fray, the classics "Everyday I Have the Blues," "All Right, Okay, You Win," and "Smack Dab in the Middle" were turned into standards under Basie's tutelage. Other highlights are the instrumental offerings "Shiny Stockings," "April in Paris," "Too Close For Comfort," "Thou Swell," and "One O'clock Jump," all of which sound better than ever before thanks to absolute first-generation master tape sources. Although the vast majority of the music in this unexpurgated anthology has been issued before, there are seven previously unreleased recordings and a trio of rare alternate versions that weren't even in the Clef/Verve tape vaults.

The extensive, full-sized liner booklet is a feast for the eyes as noted jazz journalist Chris Albertson goes into great detail about Basie's perpetually-changing personnel and the very first annotated Count Basie discography from the period. Albertson dispels long-standing myths and erroneous dates -- many of which have been quoted as fact for over half-a-century. Potential consumers should be aware that the Complete Clef/Verve Fifties Studio Recordings has been limited to a mere 10,000 copies worldwide, meaning that when they are gone … they are gone for good!

Johnny Cash -- The Legend (Columbia/Legacy)

American musicians loom no larger than the late, great Johnny Cash. Remarkably, it has been 50 years since Cash recorded his earliest rockabilly platters for Sun Records. In honor of his landmark achievements is the appropriately-titled, The Legend (2005). This four-disc assemblage also has seven never-before-released songs within the 104 choice cuts from the one and only Man In Black. Each CD is compiled thematically with fairly self-explanatory subheadings.

Win, Place and Show congregates more than two dozen of Cash's best-known and most successful selections including "I Walk The Line," "Ring Of Fire," "Ballad Of Ira Hayes," "Orange Blossom Special," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Daddy Sang Bass," "A Boy Named Sue," "Sunday Morning Comin' Down," and "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky."

Old Favorites and New continues in the same vein with familiar sides and deeper album tracks. The proceedings suitably commence with Cash's very first 45 rpm record "Cry, Cry, Cry" -- which was backed with "Hey Porter." Among the other goodies are "Get Rhythm," "Big River," "I Still Miss Someone," "I Got Stripes," "Long Black Veil," "Cocaine Blues," as well as the heretofore unissued "Doin' My Time," "I'm Never Gonna Roam Again," and "When I'm Grey."

The Great American Songbook is just that with a total of 28 tunes derived from our nation's rich and fertile folk, bluegrass, blues and pop heritage. "Rock Island Line," "Goodnight Irene," "Walkin' The Blues," "Delia's Gone," "In The Jailhouse Now," "Streets Of Laredo," "Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie," "Wabash Cannonball," "Great Speckled Bird," and "Old Shep" are but a few of the disc's key entries.

Finally, Family And Friends is a volume that focuses on Cash's consistently captivating collaborative efforts with an amazing array of talent from seemingly every popular music genre over the last fifty years. Where better to start than the obligatory "Keep On The Sunny Side" (Carter Family), before heading over to "Jackson" (June Carter Cash), "Girl From The North Country" (Bob Dylan), "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang" (Waylon Jennings), "Crazy Old Soldier (Ray Charles), "The Wanderer" (U2), of course "The Highwayman" (Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings) and a unissued duet with Billy Joe Shaver on "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ."

There are two editions of The Legend available. The 'deluxe edition' boasts an oversized coffee table-sized tome with 120 pages of uncirculated and unpublished pictures as well as written testimonials from Kris Kristofferson, Marty Stuart, George Jones, Cash's bass player Marshall Grant and long time manager Lou Robin -- who stayed with the artist for the bulk of his career. Plus, there is a bonus CD called Johnny Cash On The Air and a DVD containing the 1980 hour-long CBS-TV special Johnny Cash: The First 25 Years.

Whether you choose the more expansive or modest package, The Legend is without a doubt the final word on the multi-faceted artist. It is a perfect primer for the seasoned enthusiast, recent convert, or anyone searching for a crash course on Johnny Cash's living musical legacy.

Various Artists -- The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (Shout! Factory)

We've saved what is arguably the best for last. The vintage audio-visual archivists at Shout! Factory have again hit a grand slam with this modestly-priced three DVD set. The contents centre around nine full-length and unedited Dick Cavett Shows featuring some of rock and roll's undeniably significant figures. When compared to it's competition -- usually consisting of the Johnny Carson-hosted Tonight Show, sit-com reruns and/or "The Late Movie" du jour -- The Dick Cavett Show was definitely the thinking man's late-night talk program. His guests were always an eclectic mix of notable personalities from every walk of life and this collection is certainly a testament to that. Also, unlike the majority of chat shows before or since, Cavett had his nightly panel stick around for an often lively roundtable-type discussion.

Reclusive rockers such as David Bowie and Janis Joplin related to Cavett's organic and down-to-earth approach. This was especially true of Joplin, whose trio of guest shots are all included here. A visibly nervous George Harrison was another artist who normally refused to participate in most 'mainstream' media outlets of the day. The excitement made for some candid conversation as the former Beatle discusses the recent break-up of the Fab Four, heroin addiction amongst his peers and the hurdles that were concurrently derailing the legendary Concert For Bangladesh.

Perhaps the loosest of the lot is referred to as the 'Woodstock Show.' It was taped on Monday, August 19 th, 1969. Earlier in the day, Jimi Hendrix' two-hour set had concluded the weekend-long Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in rural upstate New York. Joni Mitchell actually missed Woodstock as her manager -- a young David Geffen -- thought an appearance on Cavett's show would have more of an impact that an appearance at the festival. Also joining the revelry are the Jefferson Airplane who get away with two of the infamous "seven dirty words" in an unedited rendition of "We Can Be Together."

All of that just barely scratches the surface as Sly & The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon -- who is backed by the Jessie Dixon Singers -- as well as the Rolling Stones -- are among the other guests.

As Cavett is fully collaborating with Shout! Factory, he provides introductions to each episode and in-depth analysis during a "bonus" interview with Emmy-winning Curb Your Enthusiasm director Bob Weide. Upcoming editions in the Dick Cavett Show DVD series will include guests Ray Charles, John Lennon with Yoko Ono and compilations with comedic icons and legends of sports as well as the silver screen. As always, watch this space for details.


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


 

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