Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Johnny Cash, 'Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth' Spotlights Legend's Love for Gospel Music

by Vernell Hackett
April 2, 2012

A new 51-track collection of Johnny Cash songs is coming this week in honor of the continuing celebration of his 80th birthday. 'Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth' brings together the singer's gospel and spiritual recordings from the 1970s and 80s.

The two-CD collection includes a selection of previously unreleased traditional hymns, folk songs and original tunes written by the Man in Black and other songwriters. The various songs were recorded in several different places, including Columbia Studios in Nashville and the House of Cash in Hendersonville. These recordings were done at a time, according to his son John Carter Cash, when his life was on an even keel. "He (had an) excitement for his faith," the younger Cash says in the liner notes.

Some of the songs were released on the iconic entertainer's albums including 1979's 'A Believer Sings the Truth,' 'I Believe' and 'Johnny Cash -- Gospel Singer.' Gospel music was always a part of the singer's life, from his days in his hometown of Dyess, Ark., through his long journey to Nashville and beyond. John Carter writes in the liner notes that "the music set a foundation for J. R. Cash and upon it he established the motivation for his existence. With the songs of the gospel came faith, and along with faith, a fortitude and persistence that would not be denied. If you were convinced of my Dad's honesty, it is because he was confident of his purpose, and that purpose was defined by gospel music. Though he would sing many kinds of music in his life, he was never truer than when he sang songs of faith."

The album's closing track, 'Truth,' is based on a poem that boxing legend Muhammad Ali reportedly gave to John. The singer had recorded it but never released it. The poem was written by Sufi leader Hazrat Inayat Khan, and one of its lines, 'The soul of truth is God,' gave the 1979 album its title.

Johnny was seemingly always singing gospel music with someone and, fittingly, there are several special guests on the album. His wife, June Carter Cash, sings with him on 'He's Alive,' 'This Train Is Bound for Glory' and 'Far Side Banks of Jordan.' Daughters Rosanne Cash and Cindy Cash join him on 'When He Comes' and 'Lay Me Down in Dixie,' respectively. Johnny and sister-in-law Anita Carter sing 'Over the Next Hill (We'll Be Home),' while another sister-in-law, Helen Carter, sings with him on the Carter Family's 'Way Worn Traveler.' Rodney Crowell guests on 'You'll Get Yours and I'll Get Mine' and 'He Touched Me;' Jessi Colter sings on 'The Old Rugged Cross.'

"At the very heart of this faith was gospel music," John Carter concludes. "I invite you to join me, and get to know the man John R. Cash as I remember him. You will hear him in these treasured recordings. Listen carefully: Spirit, Faith, Gospel. The very source of his vision."

The preceding 'Bootleg' collections include 'Personal File,' 'From Memphis to Hollywood' and 'Live Around the World.' 'Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth' will be released tomorrow (Tuesday, April 3) on Sony Legacy.

CD Review
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 3, 2012

Johnny Cash
Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth
Sony Legacy

It's been nearly nine years since Johnny Cash's death, but the wealth of music he created in his 50-year career continues to unfold. Filled with hard-to-find releases and some seldom- or never-heard music, the "Bootleg" series has previously uncovered Cash's solo homemade recordings, early work from Memphis and Los Angeles, and live tapes from across the globe.

"Bootleg Vol. 4: The Soul of Truth" turns the focus to Cash's gospel work. While the musician struggled with the demons of drug abuse across long stretches of his life, he was a man of strong faith. Sacred music was a thread that ran throughout his recording career.

The first disc is centered on the 1979 album "A Believer Sings the Truth." Among its 20 tracks and five additional unreleased songs, Cash offers a bouncy southern rockabilly pace on "Gospel Boogie (A Wonderful Time Up There)" and joins wife June Carter Cash on the upbeat piano melodies of "I'll Have a New Life."

The real treat, though, comes on disc two, where a never-released set of 12 tracks is paired with the out-of-print 1983 album "Johnny Cash - Gospel Singer." The former is led by the beautiful string and guitar melody of "Back in the Fold." On the latter, Cash's baritone vocals blend beautifully with Jessi Colter on the spare acoustic strains of "The Old Rugged Cross."

- Erik Ernst, Special to the Journal Sentinel

Review: Johnny Cash, “Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth”

The Second Disc
April 3, 2012

“John, let’s do a shot for the warden,” photographer Jim Marshall reportedly implored Johnny Cash during the singer’s 1969 performance at San Quentin Prison. Cash’s snarling response, with his middle finger in air, made for one of the most famous music photographs of all time. Cropping up on T-shirts, posters and the like, Marshall captured the outlaw side of Johnny Cash like no photographer before or since. Though it might have, indeed, been worth a thousand words, the image still only revealed part of the story of John R. Cash. At the foundation of Cash’s life and music-making was his spiritual fervor, ingrained in him from an early age. His devotion to gospel music stayed with him throughout his career, from one of his earliest albums (1959’s Hymns with Johnny Cash) through one of his very last (2003’s posthumous My Mother’s Hymn Book). Late in life, The Man in Black even recorded the entire New Testament as a spoken-word multi-CD set. Columbia/Legacy’s fourth installment of Cash’s Bootleg Series is entirely devoted to this aspect of the Cash canon, and as such, The Soul of Truth (88697 98538 2, 2012) may be the most raw, personal entry in the series yet.

The Bootleg Series launched in 2006 with Personal File’s 49 previously unissued home-recorded songs, belatedly resuming four years later with From Memphis to Hollywood. Its 57 rare tracks included 16 wholly unreleased titles spanning the period of 1954-1969. 2011’s Live Around the World focused solely on live recordings, with 39 of 51 tracks previously unreleased. This fourth volume takes a different approach, reissuing three long out-of-print albums in full and adding appropriate outtakes and rare, related material.

Bootleg IV’s first disc contains the twenty tracks recorded for Cachet Records’ 1979 double album A Believer Sings the Truth. (Half of its songs were reprised under the same name in 1982 on Priority Records, Columbia’s boutique gospel imprint.) Arrival Records’ 1984 LP I Believe… also drew on tracks from A Believer, adding four more recordings. Those four songs are now appended to the original twenty. The final cut on the first disc gives the new compilation its title. “Truth” is believed to have been based on a poem written by The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. He presented the poem to Cash, who set it to music but never released the track. The poem was, in fact, written by Sufi leader Hazrat Inayat Khan and contains the pivotal line, “The soul of truth is God.” It makes its debut here.

The second disc starts off with twelve tracks recorded in 1975 for an untitled LP. Two of these tracks have appeared on compilations over the past five years, but the album was never released until now in its intended form. (It may have been shelved because Cash already had released one gospel album in 1975, Sings Precious Memories.) Disc 2 continues with the ten tracks from Word Records’ 1986 release Believe in Him, but in their original sequence as selected for Priority’s withdrawn 1983 release Gospel Singer. Four previously unissued outtakes from the same sessions complete this disc.

A Believer Sings the Truth (1979) is this set’s rightful centerpiece. A lengthy, sprawling double album that encompasses many musical styles, it features a large group of musicians including, of course, Bob Wootton, Marshall Grant and W.S. “Fluke” Holland as well as Jack Clement, The Carter Family and the 21st Century Singers. The great majority of the songs here are originals, either by Cash or others, rather than adaptations of traditional religious standards. Themes of family, heritage and America run side by side with spirituality in Cash’s world. In “Lay Me Down in Dixie,” a duet with daughter Cindy Cash, Johnny and Cindy wax rhapsodic about the sound of a southern drawl! Like his secular songs, these tracks reflect the artist’s core values. As Cash’s son John Carter Cash admits in the liner notes, “[he] had never stopped professing or singing about his faith, but he had wandered away from it” in the throes of pill addiction in 1967. At that time and for the rest of his life, he found the strength to express those values in music even during the periods when life’s temptations kept him from embracing them in practice.

“Wings in the Morning,” a Cash original, has mariachi brass recalling “Ring of Fire,” and there’s even a train song with the familiar Cash rhythm in the form of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “This Train is Bound for Glory.” Cash introduces it with “We’re gonna ride the Bible train now!” and few would decline his invitation to board. There’s no shortage of jaunty melodies, whether the boogie-woogie of “(I’ve Got Jesus and) That’s Enough” or the accurately-named “Gospel Boogie.” The hoedown stomp of “Jesus in My Soul” is bolstered by flavorful horns. Cash’s well-documented troubles keep him from sounding too pious on these recordings, many of which have a good-time feel . The man exuded honesty whenever he sang, and these very personal expressions of faith are no exception.

Quieter moments are plentiful, too. The young Rosanne Cash harmonizes with her father on 1979’s “When He Comes” and Rosanne’s then-husband Rodney Crowell lends subtle support to W.J. Gaither’s “He Touched Me.” The gentle ballad “O, Come, Angel Band” is enhanced by the presence of the gospel choir, and they’re particularly soulful on “Strange Things Are Happening Every Day” alongside bleating horns and even electric guitar. There’s none of the gloss associated with the genre now known as “contemporary Christian.” These songs are fully-produced yet still possessing raw power. Even the previously unreleased adaptation of the Hazrat Inayat Khan poem “Truth” is far from heavy-handed, with Cash reciting it over the piano-driven track and vocal harmony: “The sign of the truth is Christ, the soul of truth is God.”

The songs of the long-lost 1975 Hendersonville sessions cover similar territory, juxtaposing good-time, twangy country gospel with lush balladry. This time, however, a 13-strong string section makes pivotal appearances on those ballads such as Marijohn Wilkin’s “Back in the Fold.” Stalwart session man Bergen White contributed piano while The Oak Ridge Boys provided backing vocals. The best track might just be “Sanctified,” which was first aired on Legacy’s Ultimate Gospel compilation. Cash can’t help but sound knowingly ironic on this fun musical dialogue in which he musically resists temptation from a variety of voices. It’s hard to believe this rollicking track sat in a vault until 2007! There’s a sweet, down-home feel on “I Was There When It Happened,” and a boom-chicka-boom duet with June Carter Cash on “The Far Banks of Jordan.”

Wootton and Holland joined Cash for the 1982 Nashville sessions intended for the Gospel Singer LP; by this point, Marshall Grant had acrimoniously departed the band. Pete Drake (steel guitar), Jerry Douglas (dobro), David Briggs and Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Earle Pool Ball and Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano) and the Cathedral Quartet (backing vocals) all made a distinct impression on the album’s tracks. Cash revisited his own “Belshazzar,” and sounds passionate sharing “The Old Rugged Cross” with Jessi Colter.

Though such a style is perhaps intrinsic to the material, Cash is humble and tender on these songs, turning in a heartfelt vocal on Mark R. Germino’s “God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window” (“There’s so much I don’t know/I don’t understand why the summer’s so hot/I don’t understand why an apple core rots/And I have no idea when I’ll see a rainbow/But there’s one thing I do know/I know that God ain’t no stained glass window…”).

He’s equally joyous on “Over There” (“I believe we’ll be together/When we reach the other side!”), as strong an expression of his resolute faith as on any of these songs. In his own “What is Man,” the singer ponders his place in the grand design to the Creator, asking “What is man? What has he done? What is man that you would care?” Rodney Crowell’s “Wildwood in the Pines” reaffirmed the younger Crowell’s place in the traditional country pantheon that has long seen artists exploring both their secular and spiritual muses. Crowell’s grand thoughts (“I believe that Jesus loves me/I can feel it in my soul”) are expressed simply and directly.

Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth marks the first release of Columbia/Legacy’s Cash 80 birthday program; the singer would have reached that birthday milestone this past February 26. Vic Anesini has remastered each track for splendid sound, and essays are provided by John Carter Cash and producer Gregg Geller. This release is an auspicious start for sure, illuminating an aspect of the artist that’s often overlooked in favor of his outlaw persona. And the artist likely understood why the image of the aggressive loner “Man in Black” had come to define him to many. Johnny Cash knew all too well what it meant to simply be human, and he was never afraid of expressing that condition in song, with all its manifold contradictions.

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