One of the towering figures of American music, Johnny Cash went through a period of being overlooked by listeners, who were apparently more interested in the pop-country of the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, six albums from that era are getting a second chance with a new box set, The Complete Mercury Recordings 1986-1991.
Cash signed to Mercury Records after 30 years with Columbia, the label that infamously dropped him after his commercial fortunes dwindled. The box set marks the first time that his Mercury albums have been reissued on CD, digitally and on vinyl. And even the diehard Johnny Cash fans probably haven’t heard “I Draw the Line,” a previously unreleased track written by Cash that appears as a bonus on the Boom Chicka Boom album from 1990.
Overall, there aren’t too many hits here, but the guest stars are incredible, leading with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison on the Grammy Award-winning Class of ’55: Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming, from 1986.
Other reissued albums include Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town (1987), Water from the Wells of Home (1988), Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series (1988), Boom Chicka Boom (1990) and The Mystery of Life (1991). The box set includes an additional 20-track album of spare early mixes, aptly titled Classic Cash: Hall Of Fame Series (Early Mixes).
All of the albums have been remastered from the original Mercury master tapes by noted engineer Kevin Reeves at UMG Studios Nashville. The box set was assembled by Grammy Award-winning producer Bill Levenson.
To survey the track listing of the new compilation, Easy Rider: The Best Of The Mercury Recordings, it’s clear how much he was admired even during a fallow period, with musicians such as Rosanne Cash and the Everly Brothers, Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, and Hank Williams Jr., joining him for a tune. That 24-song collection concludes with a rare, extended version of “The Wanderer,” his historic duet with U2.
As mentioned by journalist Scott Schinder in the box set’s extensive liner notes, these recordings “stand as a notable transitional body of work, and an illuminating prelude to the full-blown creative resurgence that Cash would experience in the 1990s.”