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Cash Unearthed – Johnny Cash

American Recordings

For anyone who discovered the depth of Johnny Cash's artistry through the

four releases that comprise the American Recordings series, then the

five CD box set Cash Unearthed is required listening. Consisting of
more than

three hours of unreleased treasures featuring Cash solo and with a who's who

guests, it provides the exclamation point to his final decade of creativity.

For those who haven't experienced Cash's work with producer/American

Records owner Rick Rubin, this deluxe package makes for a hefty introduction
to a

collaboration that resuscitated a legend.

Cash met producer Rubin at the time of a career downslide. His long

association with Columbia Records had ended and his reputation was just
enough to keep

his new record company faintly interested. He still attracted the faithful

concerts, but the venues were small. The idea of a young, long-haired

man who worked with rock and hip-hop acts (i.e. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom

Petty) signing Cash and then producing the one-time country star seemed like

odd and desperate choice. Instead, it proved to be one of the greatest

moves Cash made since approaching Sam Phillips at Sun Records as a young

I'll admit that my experience with Cash's music remained limited to his

major hits. With the release of American Recordings in 1994 I became

transfixed as his deep voice led me through a series of uncompromising and

dark-humored tales. The intimate production – just Cash's vocals and
acoustic guitar –

made for a chilling and hypnotic effect. Who’s Gonna Cry, disc one of

Unearthed, focuses on other solo performances.

The box set's opening number, "Long Black Veil," drags you into a world

that's filled with death, deceit, confession and punishment. Much of

"Unearthed" retains its fascination with such subject matter. Throughout its
69 numbers, Cash maintains an awareness of right and

wrong, hope and forgiveness, unending love and oncoming mortality. It's why
his manner so often seems matter-of-fact. That knowledge allows him to have
giddy fun with such subject matter. What seems like a shockingly sad and
prescient refrain in "The Caretaker" ("Who's gonna cry when ol' John dies?")
receives a jolt when Cash's giggle pops up at its conclusion, giving the
impression that he's well aware of the End and he's going to have a good
time 'til that final day arrives. A different side emerges during the
solemnity of "You'll Never Walk Alone."

While his songs pay strict attention to the idea that actions beget

reactions, Cash's dedication as a student of the Bible appears when a
character finds redemption after all his sinning ways. He even finds a
reprieve from lyrical burdens with the occasional love song. "Flesh and
Blood" describes his enduring need for the companionship of his wife, June
Carter Cash who died a few months before Cash himself passed away last
September. The duet, "As Long As the Grass Shall Grow," transfers their
feelings into beautiful sounds.

On other American Recordings releases, backing musicians, mainly Tom
Petty and the Heartbreakers, supported Cash. Much of Trouble in Mind,

two, revives Cash's days at Sun with numbers finding their graceful

swingin' rhythm. One particular highlight finds another Sun alum, Carl

Perkins, joining Cash for "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man." Later, a rendition of
Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand" returns to the theme of actions and

With Redemption Songs, disc three, Cash connects with acoustic-based

band arrangements. It's dramatic without ever breaking a sweat to elicit

emotion. He moves through the material like someone who is reminiscing as
well as

making peace in anticipation of his upcoming walk towards heaven.

The spirit of those songs nicely segues to My Mother’s Hymn Book,

four. It finds Cash fulfilling his final musical wish — to record the

selections of songs that he heard his mother sing when he was a child. The
intimacy and sparseness of Cash's solo performances here brings about an
understanding of why these selections meant so much to him.

A fifth disc, Best of Cash on American, compiles tracks from the four

American Recordings releases. It's a nice sampler for anyone who

experienced the previous work. But, for others it's unnecessary. With a
price tag

of nearly $80, Cash Unearthed should attract the completists. More
than likely they already own the other albums.

What everyone should enjoy is the deluxe packaging. The illuminating

liner notes discuss the whole experience. In addition, it offers

accounts by the principal creators involved. Through them we find out that

acted as Cash's enthusiastic guide, allowing the Man In Black to follow his

artistic instincts without submerging his ideas to the latest country trend.

Sure, Rubin made suggestions, which is how a number of unlikely covers by

Soundgarden, U2, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young,
Cat Stevens

and Tom Waits occurred.

The creative input stoked the desire to find material that suited Cash's

themes with arrangements molded towards his musical persona. A telling

comes about during the recording of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." It

out that Cash was a big reggae fan and after listening to a number of Marley

tracks in order to pick one, he chose this classic to use as a duet with Joe

Strummer. It's just one of many examples of the chances and experiments that
work on Cash Unearthed; rough diamonds rubbed until they sparkled and
Johnny Cash

anchoring a wealth of goods that bless us with each listen.

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