Johnny Cash

The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971

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Johnny Cash wasn't the first major country music star to host a television series, but he was the first to have a weekly show on a major network, and given Cash's eclectic willingness to embrace any kind of music as long as it was good and honest, it's not surprising that during its two years on the air The Johnny Cash Show featured a variety of noted musical artists who didn't often appear on television, including Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Neil Young, and Bill Monroe. None of those performers appear on this CD drawn from the archives of The Johnny Cash Show (though they can be seen on a companion DVD set released by Columbia/Legacy), and the big studio band that muddies the arrangements of "I Walk the Line," "Daddy Sang Bass," and "I've Been Everywhere" on this disc prove that for all Cash's brave good intentions, there were some conventions of American television he wasn't able to escape. It's also hard to say why, given the star-studded roster of artists who graced Cash's stage, this disc features Bobby Bare, Lynn Anderson, and Tammy Wynette instead of, say, Stevie Wonder, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Pete Seeger (though in all fairness Bare's rendition of "Detroit City" on this album is terrific). The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show doesn't quite deliver the show's most historically significant and exciting moments, but what's here is generally pretty good. Ray Charles delivers a passionate reading of "Ring of Fire," Cash duets memorably with Joni Mitchell on "Girl from the North Country," Waylon Jennings sings "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" with his usual casual authority (and his banter with Cash is spontaneous and funny) and Kris Kristofferson is near the top of his game as a performer as he sings "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," while Cash delivers the goods with strong renditions of "Flesh and Blood" and "Belshazzar." Johnny Cash's television series was a fearless experiment in bringing the best of American music to the small screen, and the DVD collection demonstrates that it often achieved that lofty goal; this CD doesn't hit that same target, even if it does preserve a few pearls from the Cash archive.

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