God Love Murder
In 2000, Sony Music asked Johnny Cash to compile a review of his career across Columbia Records, Legacy and American Recordings, which would then be broken into three discs titled Love, God and Murder. Anyone familiar with Cash's career would note that little he recorded ever veered far from these three themes and so the boxset accurately
With sleevenotes by Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, Love begins by recalling her memory of talking to Elvis Presley about this new singer who was driving the girls wild with his voice alone. June writes of this voice that, "penetrated my heart and spoke to my loneliness" and when the two finally met, they were both too afraid to look at one another but, over the years, they played, sang and wrote such great music together that they were finally married.
Love begins with Cash's first national hit record, I Walk The Line, and finishes, fifteen tracks later, with the sparse sound of The One Rose (That's Left In My Heart) from American II: Unchained, which was Cash's last original album before the release of this boxset. In between, the standout songs are My Old Faded Rose, Flesh And Blood and I Still Miss Someone, not to mention Ring Of Fire, all of which say in song what June Carter Cash writes in the conclusion to her notes, "...that he always cared."
Johnny Cash had a unique view on who his God was. To Cash, God was a being capable of showing great love to His people but moments of Old Testament anger were not beyond Him. He does, though, in Cash's words, like, "...a Southern accent...tolerates country music and quite a bit of guitar." One would hope He does as Cash has selected sixteen great songs that honour God with a strong Southern accent and a fair bit of guitar, all of which have been recorded with the the singer's strong touch of country. Even when including Johnny Cash's adaptation of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, this is a strong disc of songs but, as with many of Cash's religious moments, it can be a little too earnest at times with little of the rich humour present in either the Love or Murder discs, which means this is likely to be thought of as the least satisfactory disc in the set.
Opening with Folsom Prison Blues, in which a prisoner is haunted by the sound of the movements of a train outside his prison window, Murder contains sixteen songs on what many would consider to be Cash's favourite subject. Unlike the occasional moments on both Love and God that are a little cliched, Murder is one superb and surprising song after another, including Mister Garfield, the storming Cocaine Blues, a cover of Bruce Springsteen's Highway Patrolman and one of the best songs of Cash's career, The Long Black Veil. Best of all though is Cash's duet with his wife, When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below), in which Cash's prospector meets June's Red-Headed Lil in an Alaskan saloon but dies in the frozen Alaskan hills from a knife thrown by Lil's husband - it is tender in describing the brief romance between Cash's prospector and Lil yet chilling in the song's final moments, leading to it being the best song in the entire collection.
This boxset is not the ideal record of Johnny Cash's career for Sony have neglected to include a sufficient number of songs from either his early or later years for Love God Murder to be thought of as complete and, despite Columbia owning the rights to both At San Quentin and At Folsom Prison, there is but the one song from either album. On the other hand, as a sampler of the man's career, Love God Murder is a great release - capable of giving the listener enough material to encourage them to go buy yet more of Cash's albums yet not offering enough to be all that one would ever need. Therefore, whilst Love God Murder is worth buying, expect to buy many more of Cash's albums should you do so.