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Johnny Cash - Unearthed

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Unearthed

Johnny Cash

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Unearthed is, before anything else, a monolith. It's a whopping five CDs of material, four of which are previously unreleased. The first three are outtakes from the four American Recordings albums Johnny Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin. Disc four is an entirely new album of gospel songs Cash recorded from his mother's hymnal around the time of American III: Solitary Man. The final disc is a compilation drawn from the released albums. It was planned as a tenth anniversary celebration of the Cash and Rubin collaboration that began in 1992, while they were working on a fifth album. It is, effectively, the last will and testament from country music's grandest and most towering and enduring figure, Hank Williams not withstanding. The box was finished and the final mixes were sent to Cash, though he died before they arrived. During Cash's tenure with American Recordings that began in 1992, he and Rubin would cut anywhere between 40 and 80 songs for each record; for the first one they recorded over 100. Disc one, entitled "Who's Gonna Cry," features Cash singing unaccompanied as he did on American Recordings, his debut for the label. Discs two and three -- entitled "Trouble in Mind" and "Redemption Songs," respectively -- come from the material recorded for the other three and are collaborations with singers such as Nick Cave, Glen Campbell, Fiona Apple, Tom Petty, Joe Strummer, and Carl Perkins, as well as other musicians who include Norman Blake, the Heartbreakers, the rhythm section for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smokey Hormel, the Red Devils, John Carter Cash, as well as Laura and Rosanne and Cowboy Jack Clement. There are also alternate takes of some material used on the recordings with different accompaniment, including a voice and acoustic guitar read of "When the Man Comes Around." Between-track banter is abundant, as is the humor. While the majority of this material is terrific, and arguably some of it could have been used interchangeably with what was released, there are tracks that were experiments that don't quite measure up, though they remain examples of the Man in Black at his most inspired. The reading of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a case in point. It is a classic country song that was defined by George Jones. Cash's reading, though honest, taught, and fierce, lacks the pathos and harrowing depth of the Jones version. Likewise, the duet with Fiona Apple on Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" just out and out falters. "Gentle on My Mind," with Glen Campbell, is obviously fraught with genuine admiration on the part of both singers, but it's obvious that the definitive version had already been done and this one misses. Likewise, some of the material from Solitary Man and Unchained is well-intentioned and passionately wrought, but it is obvious why these songs didn't make the cut. But there are genuine revelations, too, such as the solo acoustic treatment of "Long Black Veil." It leaves its previous 1966 incarnation in the dust. On this one, the song is from the heart of the lonesome, love-torn ghost, looking upon the woman who wanders the graveyard and weeps at his headstone. To say it is chilling is one thing; the fact that it opens the entire collection is nearly devastating. Cash's covers of Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" define the term Americana, and add great depth and dimension to the original versions. While a solo version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" was issued on Joe Strummer's posthumous Streetcore, it is this duet with Cash that is the most moving and clear -- and Cash refused to change the Jamaican patois in Marley's language. Likewise, the two versions of Dolly Parton's "I'm a Drifter" are both visionary, as is a sage read of Neil Young's "Pocahontas" and the shattering take of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times (Come Again No More)." Cash's retelling of Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand" gives the song an entirely different meaning. On the canonical material, evidenced by "Trouble in Mind," "Salty Dog," Jean Ritchie's "The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore," Marty Robbins' "Big Iron," Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," and Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," Cash sings with the authority of a singer who has inherited the legacy tradition he carries in the grain of his voice. But it is the fourth disc, consisting of old country gospel songs, that steals the entire show here. Most of these songs Cash carried with him most of his life. Many come from a battered and tattered book of his mother's; Cash offers a completely unadorned devotional reading of spirituals from the annals of his Southern gothic gospel experience. While some of these are closely associated with the African-American gospel tradition of Thomas Dorsey, Cash points out in the liner notes that these songs existed simultaneously in the white church. In these 14 songs, from the rounds of "I'll Fly Away" and "Do Lord" to the expansive "Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies" and "In the Sweet By and By" to the modern gospel classic "I Am a Pilgrim" by Merle Travis, Cash's conviction and complexity are everywhere evident. These are simple songs with complex emotions, and in his readings of them they carry the paradoxes of his life, from drug addiction to grace to social justice stances to reverence, humility, and the willingness to live the gospel. They are towering because of their vulnerability and their need to communicate directly -- with searing yet human intensity -- the revelation of the singer's held truth. Unearthed is a true best-of set: a collection of the finest tracks from the remarkable symbiotic collaboration between Cash and Rubin. The five CDs are accompanied by a stellar package that includes a 100-page booklet with brilliant and deeply moving liner notes by Sylvie Simmons. Her written portraiture of Cash in his wheelchair talking about the music here and his future plans is realistic, humble, and respectfully empathetic. In addition, each track on the set is annotated in the book by directly attributed quotes she gathered from Cash, and also from Rubin and the many principals involved in the sessions. One hopes that this is the last box of the recordings from American, because it is so fine, so brilliantly woven, and so soulfully presented with an ear to quality and vision that anything other than the assemblage of American V from the recordings already completed would seem superfluous, blunting the impact of this grand and necessary document. Here is the depth of the vision and commitment of Johnny Cash to song, presented elegantly and magnificently, a mirror image of the man and his myth.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo

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Unearthed

Johnny Cash

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1
Long Black Veil
00:03:13

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Danny Dill, ComposerLyricist - Marijohn Wilkin, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

2
Flesh And Blood
00:02:27

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

3
Just The Other Side Of Nowhere
00:03:17

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Kris Kristofferson, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

4
If I Give My Soul
00:02:59

Billy Joe Shaver, ComposerLyricist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

5
Understand Your Man
00:02:05

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

6
Banks Of The Ohio
00:04:06

Maybelle Carter, ComposerLyricist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

7
Two Timin' Woman
00:02:03

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

8
The Caretaker
00:01:53

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

9
Old Chunk Of Coal
00:01:52

Billy Joe Shaver, ComposerLyricist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

10
I'm Going To Memphis
00:02:39

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

11
Breaking Bread
00:02:48

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Randy L. George, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

12
Waiting For A Train
00:01:45

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Jimmie Rodgers, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

13
Casey's Last Ride
00:03:19

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Kris Kristofferson, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

14
No Earthly Good
00:02:42

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

15
The Fourth Man In The Fire
00:02:46

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Arthur Smith, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

16
Dark As A Dungeon
00:02:58

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Merle Travis, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

17
Book Review
00:02:07

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Not Applicable, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

18
Down There By The Train Alternate Take
00:05:48

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - Tom Waits, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

DISC 2

1
Pocahontas
00:03:43

Rick Rubin, Producer - NEIL YOUNG, ComposerLyricist - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

2
I'm A Drifter Version 1
00:03:49

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Dolly Parton, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

3
Trouble In Mind
00:03:31

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Richard M. Jones, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

4
Down The Line
00:02:37

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - ROY ORBISON, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

5
I'm Movin' On
00:02:53

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - HANK SNOW, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

6
As Long As The Grass Shall Grow
00:04:21

PETER LAFARGE, ComposerLyricist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

7
Heart Of Gold
00:03:00

Rick Rubin, Producer - NEIL YOUNG, ComposerLyricist - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

8
The Running Kind
00:03:10

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Tom Petty, FeaturedArtist - Merle Haggard, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

9
Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby
00:02:10

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Carl Perkins, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

10
Brown Eyed Handsome Man
00:02:20

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - Chuck Berry, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Carl Perkins, FeaturedArtist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

11
"T" For Texas
00:03:37

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Jimmie Rodgers, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

12
Devil's Right Hand
00:02:32

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Steve Earle, ComposerLyricist - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

13
I'm A Drifter Version 2
00:03:42

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Dolly Parton, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

14
Like A Soldier
00:02:54

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Willie Nelson, FeaturedArtist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

15
Drive On Alternate Lyrics
00:02:23

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

16
Bird On A Wire Live
00:05:10

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Leonard Cohen, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

DISC 3

1
A Singer Of Songs
00:02:47

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Tim O'Connell, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

2
The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore
00:03:13

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Jean Ritchie, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

3
Redemption Song
00:03:26

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Bob Marley, ComposerLyricist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - JOE STRUMMER, FeaturedArtist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

4
Father And Son
00:02:49

Fiona Apple, FeaturedArtist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Greg Fidelman, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Yusuf / Cat Stevens, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

5
Chattanooga Sugar Babe
00:03:16

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Norman Blake, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

6
He Stopped Loving Her Today
00:02:35

Bobby Braddock, ComposerLyricist - Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Curly Putman, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

7
Hard Times
00:04:00

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Stephen Collins Foster, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

8
Wichita Lineman
00:03:02

Rick Rubin, Producer - Jimmy Webb, ComposerLyricist - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

9
Cindy
00:02:51

Rick Rubin, Producer - Traditional, ComposerLyricist - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Nick Cave, FeaturedArtist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

10
Big Iron
00:03:51

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Marty Robbins, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

11
Salty Dog
00:02:24

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Rudolph Toombs, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

12
Gentle On My Mind
00:03:23

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - Glen Campbell, FeaturedArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - John Hartford, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

13
You Are My Sunshine
00:03:16

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Jimmie Davis, ComposerLyricist

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

14
You'll Never Walk Alone
00:02:57

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - Richard Rodgers, Composer - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - Oscar Hammerstein II , Author - David Ferguson, Mixer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

15
The Man Comes Around Early Take
00:03:48

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - D. Sardy, Mixer, StudioPersonnel - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

DISC 4

1
Where We'll Never Grow Old
00:03:30

Rick Rubin, Producer - Johnny Cash, MainArtist - John Carter Cash, Producer, Associate Producer - JAMES MOORE, ComposerLyricist - David Ferguson, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel

℗ 2003 American Recordings, LLC

Album Description

Unearthed is, before anything else, a monolith. It's a whopping five CDs of material, four of which are previously unreleased. The first three are outtakes from the four American Recordings albums Johnny Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin. Disc four is an entirely new album of gospel songs Cash recorded from his mother's hymnal around the time of American III: Solitary Man. The final disc is a compilation drawn from the released albums. It was planned as a tenth anniversary celebration of the Cash and Rubin collaboration that began in 1992, while they were working on a fifth album. It is, effectively, the last will and testament from country music's grandest and most towering and enduring figure, Hank Williams not withstanding. The box was finished and the final mixes were sent to Cash, though he died before they arrived. During Cash's tenure with American Recordings that began in 1992, he and Rubin would cut anywhere between 40 and 80 songs for each record; for the first one they recorded over 100. Disc one, entitled "Who's Gonna Cry," features Cash singing unaccompanied as he did on American Recordings, his debut for the label. Discs two and three -- entitled "Trouble in Mind" and "Redemption Songs," respectively -- come from the material recorded for the other three and are collaborations with singers such as Nick Cave, Glen Campbell, Fiona Apple, Tom Petty, Joe Strummer, and Carl Perkins, as well as other musicians who include Norman Blake, the Heartbreakers, the rhythm section for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smokey Hormel, the Red Devils, John Carter Cash, as well as Laura and Rosanne and Cowboy Jack Clement. There are also alternate takes of some material used on the recordings with different accompaniment, including a voice and acoustic guitar read of "When the Man Comes Around." Between-track banter is abundant, as is the humor. While the majority of this material is terrific, and arguably some of it could have been used interchangeably with what was released, there are tracks that were experiments that don't quite measure up, though they remain examples of the Man in Black at his most inspired. The reading of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a case in point. It is a classic country song that was defined by George Jones. Cash's reading, though honest, taught, and fierce, lacks the pathos and harrowing depth of the Jones version. Likewise, the duet with Fiona Apple on Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" just out and out falters. "Gentle on My Mind," with Glen Campbell, is obviously fraught with genuine admiration on the part of both singers, but it's obvious that the definitive version had already been done and this one misses. Likewise, some of the material from Solitary Man and Unchained is well-intentioned and passionately wrought, but it is obvious why these songs didn't make the cut. But there are genuine revelations, too, such as the solo acoustic treatment of "Long Black Veil." It leaves its previous 1966 incarnation in the dust. On this one, the song is from the heart of the lonesome, love-torn ghost, looking upon the woman who wanders the graveyard and weeps at his headstone. To say it is chilling is one thing; the fact that it opens the entire collection is nearly devastating. Cash's covers of Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" define the term Americana, and add great depth and dimension to the original versions. While a solo version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" was issued on Joe Strummer's posthumous Streetcore, it is this duet with Cash that is the most moving and clear -- and Cash refused to change the Jamaican patois in Marley's language. Likewise, the two versions of Dolly Parton's "I'm a Drifter" are both visionary, as is a sage read of Neil Young's "Pocahontas" and the shattering take of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times (Come Again No More)." Cash's retelling of Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand" gives the song an entirely different meaning. On the canonical material, evidenced by "Trouble in Mind," "Salty Dog," Jean Ritchie's "The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore," Marty Robbins' "Big Iron," Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," and Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," Cash sings with the authority of a singer who has inherited the legacy tradition he carries in the grain of his voice. But it is the fourth disc, consisting of old country gospel songs, that steals the entire show here. Most of these songs Cash carried with him most of his life. Many come from a battered and tattered book of his mother's; Cash offers a completely unadorned devotional reading of spirituals from the annals of his Southern gothic gospel experience. While some of these are closely associated with the African-American gospel tradition of Thomas Dorsey, Cash points out in the liner notes that these songs existed simultaneously in the white church. In these 14 songs, from the rounds of "I'll Fly Away" and "Do Lord" to the expansive "Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies" and "In the Sweet By and By" to the modern gospel classic "I Am a Pilgrim" by Merle Travis, Cash's conviction and complexity are everywhere evident. These are simple songs with complex emotions, and in his readings of them they carry the paradoxes of his life, from drug addiction to grace to social justice stances to reverence, humility, and the willingness to live the gospel. They are towering because of their vulnerability and their need to communicate directly -- with searing yet human intensity -- the revelation of the singer's held truth. Unearthed is a true best-of set: a collection of the finest tracks from the remarkable symbiotic collaboration between Cash and Rubin. The five CDs are accompanied by a stellar package that includes a 100-page booklet with brilliant and deeply moving liner notes by Sylvie Simmons. Her written portraiture of Cash in his wheelchair talking about the music here and his future plans is realistic, humble, and respectfully empathetic. In addition, each track on the set is annotated in the book by directly attributed quotes she gathered from Cash, and also from Rubin and the many principals involved in the sessions. One hopes that this is the last box of the recordings from American, because it is so fine, so brilliantly woven, and so soulfully presented with an ear to quality and vision that anything other than the assemblage of American V from the recordings already completed would seem superfluous, blunting the impact of this grand and necessary document. Here is the depth of the vision and commitment of Johnny Cash to song, presented elegantly and magnificently, a mirror image of the man and his myth.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo

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