Johnny Cash, The Complete Sun Singles, vol. 2

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
He phoned them in, but the Man In Black pulls off these singles in high style.

By mid-1958, Cash knew he was leaving Sun Records for the broader opportunities and wider distribution offered by Columbia Records. A hurt and angry Sam Phillips required, as per their contract, that the singer record a sizable stockpile of sides that Sun could keep releasing long after Cash was gone. The star did so reluctantly, but refused to supply new material of his own. All of these selections come from those "gunpoint sessions," as it were, and the material is indeed sometimes iffy; on the brighter side, the songs provide a little more variety than in his earlier work. But "Luther Played the Boogie" is prime Cash, delivered with a sly smile, and it's a pleasure to hear the Cash baritone wrapped around country gems like "Oh Lonesome Me" — then a current single for its writer Don Gibson, now a standard — and "Born to Lose," Ted Daffan's definitive postwar honky-tonk plaint, later popularized by Ray Charles. And singles like "Thanks a Lot," "Katy Too" and "Straight A's in Love" were strong enough to go high on the country charts in the '60s with little or no promotion from Sun. There's little here that ranks with Cash's best work on Sun. But there's also little that's markedly inferior.