Johnny Cash -- The Great Lost Performance (Mercury/UMe)
Johnny Cash -- The Best of Johnny Cash TV Show (CMV/Legacy)
Johnny Cash -- The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 (Shout! Factory)
Johnny Cash -- The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1977 (Shout! Factory)
Have a holly, Johnny Christmas this year with a trifecta of releases featuring classic Cash. The Great Lost Performance (2007) is an 18-song offering from the Man In Black circa June of 1990. The Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show (2007) is a staggering four-hour compilation gathering non-stop highlights lifted off of the two seasons of his weekly musical variety show. Finally, the archives of the Country Music Hall Of Fame yield two installments -- in what promises to be an on-going series -- of seasonal Johnny Cash Christmas Specials circa the mid '70s.
While it is cause for celebration when a previously unheard Johnny Cash concert is unearthed for the masses, what makes this "lost performance" so great are the live versions of harder-to-find Cash tunes. By the time of this July 27, 1990 recording of the travelling Cash Family stage show at the venerable Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey, health problems had already begun to plague the artist. But you certainly would never know it. In fact, time seems to stop as he and his extended kin unleash their unrivalled brand of musical Americana.
Of course the obligatory hits "Ring Of Fire," "I Walk The Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Five Feet High And Rising," "Hey Porter," "Come Along And Ride This Train" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" are scattered throughout the nearly hour-long set. Plus, June Carter Cash joins Johnny for the double-barrel duets "Jackson" and "Wreck Of The Old '97." However what truly sets The Great Lost Performance apart are rarer songs such as the original "What Is Man?," and the gospel-infused tunes "Wonderful Time Up There," "A Beautiful Life," and the only known live reading of "Life's Railway To Heaven" -- which Cash first covered as part of the all-star Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two (1989) project.
One of the reasons that so many felt a special relationship with Cash is that millions of us invited him into our homes as host of ABC-TV's weekly musical variety program, The Johnny Cash Show. Finally -- after being listed as one of the 'Most Wanted TV on DVD Shows' -- over five dozen live (not lip-synched) selections have been gathered onto the double DVD Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show. With a primary cast of Johnny and the Tennessee Three, June Carter and the Carter Family, Carl Perkins as well as the multi-talented Statler Brothers, there was hardly a need for the who' s who of popular music that were being paraded through America's living rooms.
Yet true diverse artisans including the likes of Louis Armstrong ("Blue Yodel #9"), Bob Dylan ("I Threw It All Away" and "Girl From The North Country"), Stevie Wonder ("Heaven Help Us All"), Neil Young ("Needle And The Damage Done"), Bill Monroe ("Blue Moon Of Kentucky"), Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Bad Moon Rising"), Ray Charles ("Ring Of Fire"), the Eric Clapton-led Derek & The Dominoes ("It's Too Late" and "Matchbox") and Pete Seeger ("Cripple Creek" and "Worried Man Blues") are just a few of the 66 choice clips that are worked into what is obviously a labor of love from all involved.
Flanking host Kris Kristofferson are the Tennessee Three's bassist Marshall Grant, Hank Williams Jr., the Johnny Cash Show's musical arranger Bill Walker and even Cash' s son John Carter Cash, who has been a key participant in the restoration of his father's multi-media legacy. The entire production looks and sounds better than when initially telecast as each master tape was painstakingly and methodically remastered from the first-generation two-inch quad videotape, resulting in stunningly vibrant visuals. Speaking of which, the accompanying 36-page booklet is as fascinating as the main event with text from music historian Rich Kienzel -- whose perspective surrounds many formerly unpublished production photos and related memorabilia.
The unparalleled acclaim that the Johnny Cash Show garnered became a launch pad for the artist as an A-list television personality. So it was little wonder that CBS-TV called upon Johnny Cash to usher in the holiday season with a series of specials that incorporated the same failsafe musical/variety format. In conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, Shout! Factory is bringing the 1976 and 1977 Johnny Cash Christmas Specials back home for the holidays -- having remained unaired and virtually unseen for three decades. The '76 episode has viewers welcomed like long, lost relatives over to Johnny and June's. And who should drop by?
Why none other than Tony Orlando, who gets a tour of the Cash ranch before leading his hosts through a verse or two of … you guessed it, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree." But the fun is just getting started as Roy Clark, Merle Travis, Barbara Mandrell, The Carter Family and the Rev. Billy Graham all participate in the festivities. The Carter Family's rurally soulful reading of "In The Pines" makes the Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 a keeper in and of itself. The following year took on a much different feel as the bulk of the Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1977 is a star-studded tribute to Elvis Presley, who had passed away only two months earlier.
An historic confab of Cash and Presley's fellow Sun Records labelmates Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison are among those who congregated at the Grand Ole Opry in Music City USA to pay their respects to Elvis on a powerfully emotive take of “This Train Is Bound For Glory”. Since they were all together why not a nod to their rockabilly heyday with Cash ("Big River"), Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes"), Orbison (“Oh, Pretty Woman”) and Lewis (“Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On”) serving up their own rays of Sun Records' solid gold. Each DVD is sold separately and comes with a fact-filled four-page insert giving a brief bio on Cash as well as some insight into the respective broadcasts.
Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist based out of the Piedmont of North Carolina. He's a frequent contributor to All Music Guide, All Movie Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
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