Judge Steve Evans leaps to the defense of true Cash fans.
Cashing in on the Man in Black.
Johnny Cash was a pioneer in the development of country, rock, and modern gospel music. Though he led a troubled life until late in his career (even then he never seemed genuinely at peace) Cash channeled his personal woe into heartfelt vocals that seared themselves into the hearts of his fans, who are legion. Cash was an heir to the throne left vacant by the death of Hank Williams. He was able to distill the suffering of the poor and downtrodden and give voice to it, stoic and unflinching. Onstage he possessed a quiet dignity bordering on reverence—both for his music and the audience who had come to share it with him.His legacy deserves better than this disc.
There is no introduction, no opening title, no context for the performances—such as a chronology—or information about this period in the musician's long career. There are no notes about the musicians (mainly his backing duo known as The Tennessee Two: Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins). Running a scant 40 minutes, we get sixteen Cash tunes and an orchestral arrangement played over the closing credits. The disc is devoid of extra features, offering only chapter stops keyed to each song.
Every performance on the DVD was lifted from materials originally broadcast on television nearly half a century ago. Although the DVD packaging doesn't reveal any details, the source material is almost certainly a kinescope—an early form of video recording that is dismal in picture and audio fidelity. Kinescopes were usually made by placing a motion picture camera in front of a television monitor, then recording the image off the monitor's screen while a program was being broadcast. Strobing and glare reflecting off the monitor were the primary technical problems, both on full display here.
Billed as a "rare collection" of Cash performances, the disc is anything but. From a consumer standpoint, the DVD offers only three tracks that aren't already available on the superior Johnny Cash at Town Hall Party 1958-1959, released by Bear Family Records in 2002. But perhaps most telling is the disclaimer on the cover of the keepcase: "This production is not authorized or endorsed by the estate of Johnny Cash." That's practically code for "public domain," meaning the copyright has lapsed on these performances and anyone with access to the recordings and dubbing equipment can mass-produce and sell the content to an unsuspecting public.
The best moment on the disc is Cash performing a dead-on (and quite funny) impersonation of Elvis singing "Heartbreak Hotel." Not known for an overwhelming sense of humor, Cash lightens up on this track and has some fun along with his delighted audience.
The musician also shines in his rendition of gospel songs, which comprise a third of the tracks.
The set list is:
At best, this disc carries some historical value as a document of live performances early in the man's career. But the fact that most of these tracks are available elsewhere on discs affording superior sound and video would tend to negate the importance of this compilation. The digital transfer is poor. Sound quality is often itchy and scratchy. Adding to the insult, incredibly, the back of the DVD packaging claims the program is in color. Nonsense. Even the black and white photo of Cash on the box cover is at least 20 years older than any of the performances on this DVD.
This may be Johnny Cash singing at his best, but it also represents DVD production at its money-grubbing worst. For Cash compleatists only.
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