July 13, 2006
With the bulk of Johnny Cash’s music now widely available on myriad re-release packages, one could easily get the impression that the deep well of his classic work is close to being pumped dry. But that’s definitely not the case, as evidenced by this new two-CD release, which features 49 songs that were culled from a stash of tapes found in a back room at Cash’s Hendersonville, Tennessee estate—a.k.a House of Cash. As explained in the detailed liner notes, Cash began recording these songs in private in 1973, presumably to lay the groundwork for a one-man concept album. He wasn’t able to interest his record company in such a “radical” thing at the time, but that didn’t prevent Cash from continuing to record tracks alone for years (this collection has cuts dated as late as 1982). Presented here is a selection of traditional folk and gospel tunes (including some he’d learned as a youngster in the backwoods of Arkansas), a few of Cash’s favorite covers from the ’50s and ’60s (things like Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw Michigan” and Doug Kershaw’s “Louisiana Man”), some vintage Carter Family compositions, and a bevy of originals from 1974 that focus mainly on religious themes—the most intriguing being the masterful story/song “Half a Mile a Day.” If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hear Cash playing songs for fun in his living room, this intimate and laid-back album is probably as close as it gets. It also underscores how out-of-the-box Cash’s business thinking was in the ’70s. The point hits home when you consider how Cash went into semi obscurity after being dropped by Columbia Records, only to re-emerge big time in 1994 with American Recordings, a hugely successful album that finally brought to life his original solo concept. (Columbia/Legacy).