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This review is from: Original Album Classics (Audio CD)A name springs to mind during this period of Johnny Cash's career: namely Bob Dylan.
Hello and Man In Black showcase Dylan's influence, though not his tunes, as Cash goes down a tremendously folk-rock based journey. You can tell that Nashville Skyline was also recorded around this time-frame.
Hello still features an amazing rockabilly number, Blistered. I also understand that Cash co-wrote See Ruby Fall with his rockabilly buddy, Roy Orbison. It is a pure honky-tonk number in the manner of what Jerry Lee Lewis was cutting at the time. Orbison, at the same time on MGM, released a Hank Williams covers album, so that influence may have rubbed off.
To Beat The Devil, Devil to Pay, Sing A Travelling Song, all have that Nashville Skyline country-rock/folk vibe that Dylan was working on. To Beat The Devil was written by Kris Kristofferson, and also appears on his first album.
The Johnny Cash Show is excellent too, but I prefer the issues of the TV show from two years' ago. Sunday Morning Comin Down is the great track from this album, which like Hello was produced by Bob Johnson, the same guy that did Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Hardin, and Nashville Skyline for Dylan. He also produced Bookends for Simon & Garfunkel, and the first two Leonard Cohen albums. Again, the Dylan influence is apparent, but what is also apparent is the seeds sown for Cash's career failure. The over-produced orchestrations of Bill Walker are a foreshadowing of some of Cash's awful recordings from the mid 70s onwards.
Man In Black though is the zenith before the long-dying fall, and before the Rubin produced resurrection. It features spiritual numbers, but they are not as cloying, or as sugary as his later gospel recordings. Look For Me is just the right side of spiritual without being over-zealous, with a Dylanesque influence too. The Preacher Said Jesus Said is far better than a later effort about Billy Graham, Oral Roberts etc, nor is it as clumsy as Matthew 24.
Secondly, we have the re-write of Dylan's Chimes of Freedom that is Man In Black: a re-write in the good sense. This is Cash's manifesto filtered through the Dylanesque sensibility of the age. Vietnam Talkin Blues shows that, as a country singer, Cash's politics were never clear-cut, never right-wing, in no way an Okie from Muskogee figure, though Ragged Old Flag and Sold Out of Flag Poles later would beg to differ.
In short, all three albums are excellent, but it wouldn't be long before the long dying trajectory began.