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The Beatnik’s Breaking News! Johnny Cash American Recordings I-VI Box Set 180g 7LP Review

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I should start this review with a confession: For reasons unknown I love box sets. So even though I already owned all these LPs, I bought this box set. The plan was to then give my LPs away.

In the early ’90s, Johnny Cash signed with Rick Rubin’s American label and began releasing the American Recordings series of albums. Produced by Rubin, “the American Recordings were stark, stripped-down, mostly acoustic meditations on the more apocalyptic side of his persona”, wrote Rolling Stone. Cash covered Beck, Nick Cave, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Soundgarden, Danzig, and, of course, Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” The albums wonderfully capture Cash’s famous baritone as powerful as ever. With these albums he surely lived up to his reputation as the “Man In Black,” not that that anyone really doubted this.

I love these six albums; they are without a doubt my favorite Johnny Cash albums. Except for Unchained (American II) these aren’t really country albums, but much more on the dark folk side of music. The emotion of Cash just drips out into the room. They are some of the most powerful albums I have ever heard. American Recordings II is a little less emotionally powerful, but equally as good. Add to this, these recordings sound as good as the music and you have a small miracle, almost like finding out that ice cream isn’t fatting but healthy.

Two of these albums were released posthumously. It is easy to hear the aging and health failing that Cash goes through from the first to the last two of these great albums. Just thinking about some of the songs on these LPs just gets me wanting to listen. There’s “Delia’s Gone,” “Why Me Lord?”, “Bird on a Wire,” “Solitary Man,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “The Man Comes Around,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Desperado,” “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Streets of Laredo,” “Ain’t No Grave,” “Satisfied Mind” and “Aloha Oe.” That’s just about half of my favorites and I don’t know a single song on the six albums I don’t enjoy every time I listen to them.

So now we have this great music in a single box set. As I’ve already said, I already owned all six of these albums and let me say there is really no need to buy these new pressings, unless like me, you really like box sets. I should also say if you don’t have these or have only one or two of the LPs, the box set would be a great way to go. You might even end up combining them like I have. So, let me take a moment to compare the six albums.

On American Recordings (American I) I preferred the English pressing I already owned. They were both very good, but the new pressing just wasn’t as alive.

On Unchained (American II) just the opposite was true. I much preferred the new pressing found in the box set. It was incredibly alive and the scale was magnificent.

Then we come to American III: Solitary Man and again I preferred the new pressing. It was overall quieter and more alive sounding.

Ameircan IV: The Man Comes Around is a double LP and an exceptionally powerful album. Here the Lost Highway pressing I already had was best; in fact this was the biggest difference I heard in the whole box set. The new pressing was too subdued and lacked the emotional energy I was used to with the Lost Highway pressing.

American V: A Hundred Highways and America VI: Ain’t No Grave are the hardest of the six albums to hear the difference but in the end I found the new pressing from the box set to have more body, better tonal color and every bit as alive sounding. In the end, I felt the new pressing was simply better on these two LPs.

 

Concluding thoughts

This 7-LP, 6-album Johnny Cash American Recordings I-VI Box Set is beautifully presented, everything about it is simple and classy. The LPs are pressed on 180g vinyl. They are cut from the original masters under the strict supervision of Rick Rubin and pressed at QRP. I found four of the six in the box set to be better than the versions I already owned so I’m very glad I bought it; but I did end up mixing in the two old albums I like more. I gave the six albums I did not put in the box set to my son and daughter-in-law. Most of all, this is great music and I loved the long afternoon and evening I spent comparing these LPs.

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