RATING: 4 1/2 STARS
These days, with most homes receiving dozens of television stations, it’s easy to forget the immense power the networks wielded when there were only three of them. In 1969, CBS gave Johnny Cash, then at the peak of his popularity, a summer variety show with free reign to book whomever he wanted. Cash used the power wisely, providing exposure to a wide swath of artists from up-and-coming singer/songwriters (Neil Young, James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell), to rock acts (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Derek & the Dominos), country legends (Bill Monroe, Mother Maybelle & the Carter Family) and his contemporaries (Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Merle Haggard, Carl Perkins). This long-awaited double DVD compilation of 66 full performances, from the 1969-71 seasons, never feels long. Disc one features fascinating reminiscences from associates involved with the show (the story about June Carter forcing the free-spirited Linda Ronstadt to wear panties is one of many priceless anecdotes), but it’s the music, remixed from mono into surround sound, that will have you hitting replay. Ray Charles kicking into a sizzling, soulful “Ring of Fire” and Eric/Derek jamming with Cash and Carl Perkins on “Matchbox” are just a few treasures from a chest full of some of the finest and most influential music ever broadcast on TV.