This is as good as it gets for Johnny Western fans. And, in the absence of a single disc collection from Columbia or Rhino, it's also the only route to go to get any Johnny Western material other than "The Ballad of Paladin." The three-CD set with 200 minutes of music, which retails for a whopping $85, has everything that Western recorded from 1952 for JOCO up through his '70s sides for House of Cash, and a ton of rare radio transcription recordings. Disc One contains some unreleased Columbia sides, and the JOCO sides from 1952 and 1953, nicely restored, with John Field
showing himself a great one-man western combo with the use of Les Paul
-style overdubs. Disc Two features more Columbia sides from the late '50s and early '60s, as well as Western's 1964 Philips sides and his songs cut for the Hep label in 1966. The Columbia material includes Western's attempts to crack the folk market, which may not have succeeded commercially but are great listening anyway. The Hep sides are the most interesting, however, for the sheer restraint that they show -- Western's later sides for Columbia and Philips showed a certain degree of excess on the production side, while the Hep sides benefit from a slightly leaner, more delicate backup. The House of Cash recordings featured on Disc Two also show off Western in a leaner setting, doing new performances and superb covers. Disc three consists of rare radio transcription performances done for the syndicated shows Country Style, USA
and Country Music Time
circa 1960, with Western doing sharp, lean renditions of numerous songs, backed by a band that included Marty Robbins
on the piano. The material was a mix of country and folk standards, along with western material that he was directly associated with, and some fascinating covers. The sound on this material has held up exceptionally well, and it is exclusive to the Bear Family release.