Periodically record labels will throw together greatest hits packages culled from the back catalogues of their biggest stars. Now, a great deal of the time one is tempted to dismiss this type of thing as the cynical manoeuvring typical of the industry as they attempt to sell consumers the same product for a second time by merely putting it in a fresh wrapper. However, once in a while they do come up with a fresh idea and deliver something worthwhile.
One such series that has all the appearances of being a good idea is the new Legacy Recordings Setlist collection. While they've still gone into their back catalogues for some of the material, some of the discs promise previously unreleased material, and all them promise an interesting collection of live performances.
If their intent with the series was to choose material that gave listeners a good general overview of a performer's range, then judging by the package they've put together for Johnny Cash, Setlist: The Very Best Of Johnny Cash Live they've done a remarkable job. For not only have they taken tracks from live performances Cash gave at various times and locations during his long and storied career, they've chosen songs that reflect the wide variety of styles and genres Cash played. Of course there are a number of songs from his recordings at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, two of his most famous live recordings, but did you know he had also made a live recording in a prison in Sweden? I sure didn't know that, but there are two tracks on here from a recording made at Osteraker Prison in October 1972. Hearing that familiar Cash voice speaking Swedish as he introduces "That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine" to his audience is almost worth the cost of the disc alone.
To be honest, types of songs like the one above — sentimental country music — are the ones I like the least among Cash's repertoire. However, stuff like "I Still Miss Someone," "I Got A Woman," and the medley of "Darlin' Companion/If I Were A Carpenter/Jackson" (from live shows at Madison Square Garden, Folsom Prison, and Ryman Auditorium respectively) were, and still are, favourites for many. Omitting them would have given a false impression of his career and the music he played. I'm sure there are songs on this disc I like that others won't appreciate, but that's part of what made Cash so special, his ability to appeal to so many different people. How many other performers do you know who have had tribute albums created for them by everybody from gospel groups to punk bands? Not many, I'd bet.