Top positive review
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Quite simply the best ever country music release
on 4 December 2012
This is a fabulous release for any fan of JC but especially for someone like me who has bought all his vinyl albums and most of the CD reissues over the past 50 years.
Let me start with the package. Sturdy box, rather dull artwork and with a flip lid. I prefer lids you can remove rather than hinged ones, the latter can wear out over the years. Also sturdy slipcases for the CDs: again I don't like these as there is a risk of scuffing the CD playing surface although I have extracted each disc with care. A magnifying glass is needed to read the liner notes for each album. Perhaps the 197 page booklet could have been a hardback rather than a paperback. Solution to the 'packaging problem': buy 2 Really Useful 6.5L boxes [Staples sell them]: they will comfortably take the the empty box and each disc in a slimline jewelcase [Tesco] with its associated sleeve. Packaging: 8.5/10.
Now to the guts. Is it what it says it is: 'Complete [original only] Columbia Albums': ehmm, probably. Why the hesitancy? I wonder whether 2 truly qualify: 'Keep on the sunny side' [disc #11] is really a Carter Family release with JC included as a 'special guest'. 'Koncert V Praze' [#55] was a release on the Supraphon label in Czechoslovakia, so was it a 'Columbia album'? Anyway, who really cares: both are included. More contentious are the omissions. Towards the end of 1960 JC recorded a narration 'A day in the Grand Canyon' included in an album 'Grand Canyon Suite' by the renowned conductor Andre Kostelanetz. JC's contribution was a single 11 minute track but deemed important enough for the album sleeve to give his name prominence. If the Carters album qualified so perhaps should this one. In 1975 a Columbia Special Products ['CSP'] album 'Destination Victoria Station' was issued, basically for sale in a restaurant chain of the same name. Of the 12 train themed songs included, 4 were tracks from other albums, 2 were new vocals on previous backing tracks and 6 were totally new recordings. This should have been included. Finally, if the Supraphon album was included, so should have been the 1979 Cachet release of 'A believer sings the truth': Columbia later released an abbreviated version and the full double album appeared in the UK on CBS. Hey, never mind: this album is included in 'Bootleg 4', released a few months ago.
How good a deal is this set for avid collectors? Sony claim that 35 of the 59 albums featured have not previously been issued on Sony Legacy in the USA. The extensive booklet does not identify the 24 allegedly previously released. Including CSP releases, I own 27 USA releases and this excludes 3 Christmas CDs reissued in 1995 I did not purchase. So that reduces the 'new' material to 29. One can further reduce this figure by 6 for the 2010 Readers Digest boxset, a further 2 for the Bear Family 2on1 release of the film soundtracks to 'I Walk the Line' and 'Little Fauss and Big Halsy' and a further 8 that can be compiled in their entirety from the 4 LP sized boxsets also issued by Bear Family. This leaves 13 albums new to reissue. These cover the later period of JC's time at Columbia when by common consent his recording quality was tailing off. However at an equivalent price of around £9 per disc these are still a bargain for completists. And this is without counting the first 19 albums being mono issues nor counting the 3 bonus discs. For album completism: 9/10.
The bonus discs divide me. The 28 Sun tracks on disc #61 are an excellent selection but is the disc necessary? Could not the Grand Canyon narration and a selection of rare and unreleased tracks have been included instead? On the other hand, the double album 'Singles, plus' [disc #s 62 and 63] is simply fabulous. With the exception of the 4 instrumental tracks released in 1959 and 1961 where JC was the 'friend' in 2 singles from 'The Tennessee Two and Friend', every one of the non-album singles plus an extended play issued by Columbia are included in chronological sequence plus a few tracks from his collaborations with such as Earl Scruggs. Several have not been released on any previous CD compilation and many tracks are a joy. Bonus discs: 10/10.
So far, in one day, I have played 8 discs and the sound quality is very good.
To sum up: a wonderful issue by Sony. I have pointed out some very small debatable points, all of which Sony can easily refute. For the uncommitted Cash fan this is giveaway value. For the completist it is still great value. If you doubt me, check out the price of the equivalent 76 CD set by Tony Bennett: just over £450! When this set was advertised I was thinking of a credit card busting £250 to £300: to find it for a fraction over £120 ie less than £2 per disc is truly amazing value. So well done Sony and thanks for the memories John.