Johnny Cash | Bootleg Volume 2: From Memphis to Hollywood (Sony/Legacy)

Some of his earliest recordings paint a picture of the soul sickness so instrumental in forming his classic hits.

Before the familiar baritone of the seasoned musical veteran haunted modern day standards such as “Ring of Fire,” there was a hopeful novice cutting the demo for “Train of Love.” Decades prior to the major Hollywood biopic Walk the Line, there was a young singer with a fledging radio program and his backup musicians, the Tennessee Two (an early incarnation of the Tennessee Three), punctuating their on-air performances by reading ads for the Home Equipment Company. In order to know Johnny Cash the icon and understand how he has influenced artists in such a diverse range of musical genres, one must first take in the sound of the Arkansas farm boy-turned-crooner. Some of his earliest recordings paint a picture of the soul sickness so instrumental in forming his classic hits, as well as the sentimentality that helped him craft some of his best love songs.
Bootleg, Volume 2: From Memphis to Hollywood catalogues some of the seminal demo recordings of Cash’s career that would later be buried in obscurity. It also includes a handful of them that would evolve into signature pieces such as “Get Rhythm” and “Walk the Line.” The first of the two CDs in the release also includes a collection of recordings from Cash’s erstwhile radio days on KWEM in Tennessee. We can hear him reading advertising spots with a voice that as yet lacks some of the confidence that he would later be known for on the stage.
The treasures on the compilation come in the form of an impressive listing of tracks that were either previously unreleased in the United States or were rarities that have never before been released anywhere. Gems from Cash’s days as a nascent recording artist at Sun Records under the legendary Sam Phillips fill the second half of the first CD along with the two wonderfully rediscovered tracks “Restless Kid” and “It’s All Over,” both of which are shrouded in mystery, as the recording dates and locations are unknown.
In studying and appreciating any great name who has impacted popular music on such a broad spectrum, it is important to listen to the elements in their early sound that reappear not only to the artist’s own later work, but also in the work of cultural descendants. The litany of tracks from the 1950s and ‘60s on Bootleg, Volume 2 provides a foundation for understanding how a man who initially rose to fame as a country music artist was able to transcend decades and inspire musicians in blues, folk and the many subcategories of rock ‘n’ roll. A | Jason Neubauer
RIYL: Hank Williams Sr., The Bottlerockets, Two Cow Garage

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