This Bear Family box documents the last four years of Johnny Horton's life as a recording and performing artist. It is the second box set issue in their extensive -- in fact, complete -- Johnny Horton oeuvre. The first documented the Cormac, Abbott, and Mercury recordings as well as two albums' worth of demos and overdubs released while he was alive. This four-CD collection contains Horton's complete issued recordings, unreleased demos, and outtakes as well as overdubbed recordings issued between 1964 and 1969 (during the decade after his death) and working demos. Horton's final period at Columbia is what people (most people) remember. These were the years of "Sink the Bismarck," "Battle of New Orleans," "Honky Tonk Man," "Rock Island Line," "Ole Slewfoot," "The Same Ole Tale the Crow Told Me," his devastating recording of "Lost Highway," as well as his final monster singles recorded in August of 1960 (a mere three months before he was killed in an auto accident), "Go North" and "North to Alaska" (for a soundtrack). Unlike his peers during the later years -- Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, and others -- Horton exhibited not only an easy amiability but a combination of confidence and vulnerability. It was as if he knew that making music came naturally to him but couldn't understand why anybody would make a big deal out of it. Here are the songs that ran the gamut of rockabilly, hard honky tonk, hillbilly boogie, blues, patriotic songs of the South, cowboy tunes, and even a recording of "Empty Bed Blues," which Bessie Smith had recorded 30 years before. While most Bear Family boxes -- because of their elaborate packaging, liner notes that resemble full critical biographies, and import prices -- are not for everyone, this set is an exception. Rock & roll fans interested in the early music, hardcore honky tonk fans, and of course Horton nuts will have to have this. The earlier set would have even more limited appeal, but the sheer quality of the music issued here transcends its genre, time, and place and is eternal in postwar musical history. Highly recommended.
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