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TBTS Reviews: Johnny Cash – Bootleg, Vol. 2: From Memphis To Hollywood

March 6, 2011

This double CD collection of early demo’s, rarities and Johnny Cash‘s first live radio appearance represents an important piece of his legacy. From Memphis To Hollywood (Columbia) portrays an early phase of Cash becoming one of the most respected and revered figures in music history.

Disc One: The 1950’s contains the aforementioned radio performance, broadcast on Memphis’s KWEM from May 21st, 1955, as well as early versions of classic Cash tracks such as “Get Rhythm,” “I Walk The Line” and “Big River.” Some of these demos are mellower, for reference only or blueprint versions, that shed new light on the recording process of a pre ‘Man In Black’ Cash. At the time Cash was working for the Home Equipment Company, who sponsored the broadcast, and between almost every song, he is reading mini ads for aluminum screens and siding. What’s fascinating about this section is that it truly gives the listener a rare glimpse of what radio sounded like in the mid fifties.

Disc Two: The 1960’s captures a number of Columbia studio sessions from 1958 to 1968. Hollywood didn’t take long to get its claws into Johnny Cash; he started working on songs for film and television shortly after moving there. “Johnny Yuma Theme,” Five Minutes To Live,” and “Shifting, Whispering Sands” were all connected to a TV show or movie of some sort. ‘Sands’ being a duet with Bonanza’s Lorne Greene. Cash also began to warm to the new recording techniques and quality equipment working for a major label like Columbia afforded their big ticket artists.  More complex arrangements and background singers started to pop up here and there amongst his quickly growing catalog.

From Memphis To Hollywood is a suitable follow up to the superb Bootleg, Vol. 1, Personal File. Although it does not convey the intimacy and directness of File, it gives an invaluable look at a legend in process. Ashley Kahn provides great liner notes that bring you into the House of Cash as it was being constructed. Never one to mince words, Cash is forthright and nothing if not honest in his songwriting. The purity of which is well evidenced here. There is no discounting his intention or message from a simpler, less cluttered world. Want to peer into the past? Want to know what your parents or grandparents heard when they turned on the AM radio in their ’55 Bell Air? Well here you go.

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