Fans of old-time country-gospel will find treasure for their hearts as well as their ears with the latest in the “Johnny Cash Bootleg Series,” “Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth.”
As the old cliche goes, Cash's distinctive bass-baritone voice would compel even if he were reciting from the phone book, but the country legend, who would have turned 80 on Feb. 26, pours soulful zeal into the 51 hymns and sacred songs on the two-disc set.
The recordings were made in the 1970s and '80s, and as his son John Carter Cash writes eloquently in the liner notes, it was a happy time for Cash, when “His excitement for his faith is evident in his tone and timbre.” Several family and friends perform uplifting collaborations with the Arkansas-born and bred superstar, including his wife June Carter Cash, her sisters Helen and Anita Carter, his daughters Cindy and Roseanne Cash, Roseanne's then-husband Rodney Crowell, plus Jan Howard, Marshall Grant and Jack Routh. As usual, Cash does some of his best work with his songbird spouse as they pair for “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” “I'll Have a New Life” and “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” and he and Jessi Colter team for a beautifully resonant rendition of the gospel chestnut “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Much of the first disc is dedicated to the 20 tracks originally recorded for Cash's rare 1979 album “A Believer Sings the Truth”; it also includes four tracks from the 1984 release “I Believe ...” Disc One closes with the spoken word piano spiritual “Truth,” a previously unreleased number that according to the liner notes is based on a poem initially believed to be written and given to Cash by Muhammad Ali. As it turns out, the poem apparently was penned instead by Sufi leader Hazrat Inayat Khan; the set's title “The Soul of Truth” is taken from a line in the song.
More than half of the 26 tracks on Disc Two also are bowing for the first time, starting with 12 tracks that were cut in 1975 for an untitled LP that was never released. The remaining 14 were recorded in 1982 for Priority Records, according to the liner notes, but CBS closed the label before the album, “Johnny Cash — Gospel Singer,” could be dropped. In 1986, 10 of the tracks were released on World Records with the title “Believe in Him,” while the other four are debuting on the new set.
Whether he is crooning one of his well-known spiritual originals like “Belshazzar” or “What on Earth Will You Do (For Heaven's Sake)” or great old hymns like “Oh Come, Angel Band” or “Never Grow Old,” Cash's legacy as a gospel singer is reaffirmed with his latest “Bootleg.”
— Brandy McDonnell