Reissues of five classic Johnny Cash albums in honor of his recent 70th birthday lead this week’s new country releases. Also out are an anthology of recordings by defunct alternative country band Uncle Tupelo (precursor to Wilco and Son Volt), the new one by alt-country favorite Christy McWilson and a collection by Texas-based singer-songwriters, Brewed in Texas.
The Cash titles –- The Fabulous Johnny Cash, Hymns by Johnny Cash, Ride This Train, Orange Blossom Special and Carryin’ On With Johnny Cash & June Carter (Columbia/Legacy) — are digitally remastered and expanded, with new liner notes by Cash, June Carter Cash and various well-known scribes.
Issued in 1958, The Fabulous Johnny Cash was his first album for Columbia after leaving Sam Phillips’ Memphis-based Sun Records. The newly expanded version includes a previously unreleased track, “Oh What a Dream,” and four tracks issued only on Germany’s Bear Family label.
Hymns by Johnny Cash, also released in 1958, is the singer’s first sacred collection –- Phillips nixed the idea at Sun. It includes five original Cash compositions. Ride This Train from 1960 is a concept collection in which Cash’s spoken narration connects the songs. It also includes an unreleased track, “The Ballad of the Harpweaver,” a recitation by Cash of a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. On Orange Blossom Special, from 1965, Cash records three songs by Bob Dylan. The new set includes an alternate version of one, “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind,” never released in the U.S. Carryin’ On With Johnny Cash & June Carter appeared in 1967. When “Jackson,” one of the duets, became a hit, the set was retitled Jackson and rereleased. The couple would marry in 1968.
Uncle Tupelo, the seminal band from Belleville, Ill., could fairly be said to have inspired the alternative country movement that melds punk rock’s energy with country music’s lyrical honesty. Uncle Tupelo 89/93: An Anthology (Columbia/Legacy) documents their early career with 21 cuts from indie releases, singles, live performances and demos. Their first album, No Depression, took its name from a Carter Family song and in turn became the name of the magazine devoted to the movement. In 1994 the group splintered and Wilco (led by Jeff Tweedy) and Son Volt (Jay Farrar) were spawned.
R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck produced Uncle Tupelo’s second album, March 16-20, 1992, and he plays guitars on Christy McWilson’s new one, Bed of Roses (HighTone). Ex-Blaster Dave Alvin produces and also plays guitars. McWilson, former singer with the Picketts from Seattle, is a talented songwriter who sings with an engaging catch in her voice. Alvin sings with her on a cover of Moby Grape’s “805.”
Brewed in Texas, on Houston-based Compadre Records, collects 20 drinking songs by Texas country artists including “One Bud Wiser,” by former Lonestar member John Rich. Some tracks are unreleased, such as “Whiskey River” by Cross Canadian Ragweed. Others have appeared before, among them Wayne Hancock’s “Juke Joint Jumpin’” and Slaid Cleaves’ “Horseshoe Lounge.”