- KILLER sound from start to finish with both sides earning Nearly Triple Plus (A+++) grades, right up there with our Shootout Winner
- Big, rich, tubey and open, this is some of the best sound Columbia achieved for its country records in the ’60s
- The vocal presence and freedom from coloration will put a very real sounding Johnny Cash front and center in your listening room
- “What is interesting about this album, though, is that it doesn’t just remind us of the sound of Johnny’s past, instead it points the way forward to the future, even serving as a template for his ultimate Man in Black persona.”
These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
The best pressings of Johnny Cash’s albums — the ones that sound like this one as a matter of fact — give you proper tonal balance, presence and fullness to Johnny’s voice, and enough Tubey Magic to combat the grit that was part of the man’s “sound.”
When you can hear it right, the album sounds the way you would expect a Johnny Cash album from 1962 to sound, and you really can’t ask for any more than that. The sound is, more than anything else, authentic — authentic to the time and place of the recording.
What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1962
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We Listen For on The Sound of Johnny Cash
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Lost On The Desert
Accidentally On Purpose
In The Jailhouse Now
You Won’t Have Far To Go
In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home
I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know
You Remembered Me
I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now
Let Me Down Easy
Sing It Pretty, Sue
One would expect an album entitled The Sound of Johnny Cash to, well, sound like Johnny Cash. Come 1962, however, it was increasingly difficult to define that sound. On Sun records in the late ‘50s, Johnny had a distinct sound. It was part country, part rockabilly, and all Cash. Guitarist Luther Perkins was no Chet Atkins or even Scotty Moore, and yet, despite technical limitations, built a distinctive rockabilly influenced-style. During the verses he would usually tick-tock back and forth between the root and the fifth, and in the breaks he would either play a simple chord-based chime in the upper register, or a twangy riff low down on the E and A strings (Rock Island Line and Folsom Prison Blues are both fabulous examples wherein he does both in one solo). On bass, Marshall Grant would generally underpin Luther’s tick-tock. Their producer, Sam Phillips, forbade drums, so Cash himself took an interesting approach to acoustic-based rhythm playing. Rather than using bluegrass or delta blues-style fingerpicking, he shoved a heavy piece of paper between the strings and the fretboard, further muted the strings with his left hand, and used his right hand to rake across the strings, giving a percussive clickety-clack. The result was a never-before-heard minimalist approach to country born of necessity: Boom-chicka-boom. The “booms” were Marshall and Luther, the “chicka” was Cash essentially playing drums on his guitar. Add to that Johnny’s lonesome, moaning baritone and you had absolute magic.
What is interesting about this album, though, is that it doesn’t just remind us of the sound of Johnny’s past, instead it points the way forward to the future, even serving as a template for his ultimate Man in Black persona. This is notable first in the three crime tales. The first, Jimmie Rodgers’ In the Jailhouse Now (later made famous in O Brother Where Art Thou?), is a cautionary tale of crime and gambling, which, with its upbeat tone and enthusiastic call and response vocals made for a great single. The second, Delia’s Gone, is a brutal, callous murder ballad, building on his infamous Folsom Prison line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”:
“First time I shot her, shot her in the side Hard to let her suffer, but with the second shot she died.”
The third, I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now, is a tale of an innocent man’s liberation, although whether it is literal, or only in his mind is never made clear. What made Johnny so relatable was that he was passionate about justice, and yet always showed an understanding of what it is that makes us do the wrong thing. In these songs, this dimension of his complex personality emerges. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Cash returned to Delia and Chain Gang to great effect in his American Recording years with Rick Rubin.
Raise My Glass to the B-Side blog