Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs: Johnny Cash, I Walk The Line Review

Posted on 4th October, 2020

Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs: Johnny Cash, I Walk The Line Review

David Price auditions a limited edition audiophile vinyl pressing of a nineteen sixties Country classic…

Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

Johnny Cash: I Walk The Line

£69

Released in 1964, Johnny Cash’s own retrospective of his early career on the Sun record label has become arguably his most iconic album release. It was a bold move at the time, as he’d already enjoyed a run of chart-topping albums and become one of country music’s most prolific and celebrated recording artists. Yet I Walk The Line went on to become one of his greatest selling albums, and as far as the wider pop music world was concerned, his calling card – think Carole King’s Tapestry or Bob Marley’s Exodus.

MoFi Johnny Cash I Walk The Line Review

Don’t be fooled by its vintage; even by modern standards the Don Law and Frank Jones production sounds great, reminding us all about the glory days of pre-multitrack analogue tape. Simple but effective, it never gets in the way of the superlative musicianship and of course, Cash’s unique voice, which is a curious combination of one part velvet and two parts gravel. The setlist is cleverly chosen; classic songs such as Hey Porter and Give My Love To Rose meet new standards like Understand Your Man and Bad News, plus of course the iconic title track that made Cash famous even with middle America, back in 1956. There are some great cover versions too, like Flatt and Scruggs' Troublesome Waters and Gene Autry's Goodbye Little Darlin' Goodbye.

The result is a cohesive sounding album that oozes atmosphere and fizzes with drama. Cash’s notorious life out of the recording studio – his heavy drinking, amphetamine and barbiturate addiction and general bad-boy persona – are clear to hear in his vocal performance. Although his voice is superb in itself, his delivery is fragile and emotive in a way that only someone who’s lived such an erratic and frenetic existence can be. It sounds a long way away from that of today’s affected, stylised, pitch-corrected and polished-to-perfection pop idols – none of whom ever landed in jail seven times for assorted misdemeanours…

This Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording version stands aside, to let the natural beauty of the original recording shine through. Pressed to two 45RPM discs, on 180g virgin vinyl, this release is well up to the company’s usual stellar standards. Taken straight from the original master tapes, with meticulous attention paid to sound quality, this amazing mono recording sounds positively holographic on any good vinyl-based hi-fi system.

Cash’s voice floats in space in an eerie and ethereal way. Compared to my early US pressing, there’s plenty more detail and warmth; the Mo-fi makes the stock version sound a little hard in the upper midband and dry in the bass, and there’s a sweeter and more sugary feel overall. The smoky, distinctive grain of Cash’s singing is better conveyed, and there’s a lovely timbre to the instruments of his backing band, The Tennessee Three. Bassist Marshall Grant, guitarist Luther Perkins and drummer W.S. ‘Fluke’ Holland have never sounded more vibrant than here. Surface noise is also way down, as you would expect.

The usual price considerations come into play with Mobile Fidelity releases; at £69 it’s steeper than other versions on sale but to me, there’s no denying that it’s the best by far. Packaging – including the beautifully done gatefold sleeve and soft polythene inner to prevent surface scratching of the vinyl – is also beyond reproach. Ultimately, a fair chunk of your hard-earned cash buys you the finest version of one of the ultimate country music recordings ever committed to black plastic. The fact that it’s limited to just 3,000 numbered copies, makes it all the more treasurable.

More information at Mobile Fidelity

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David Price

David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.

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