Label celebrates Cash’s 80th birthday with new release

Anna Weldon | April 11, 2012    

Had the legendary Johnny Cash still been alive… Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth

Johnny Cash


Rocks like: A more gospel Johnny Cash

Grade: A

Had the legendary Johnny Cash still been alive, he would have had his 80th birthday this February.

In honor of his death, Columbia/Legacy released Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth on April 3 as the first release to his birthday celebration. The two-CD, 51-track collection of gospel and spiritual songs includes a variety of previously released and unreleased material. It offers listeners a chance to reflect on Cash’s career and recall his multi-genre talents.

Cash began his career after the Air Force discharged him in 1954. He auditioned that year at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records as a solo gospel artist but eventually ended up dropping gospel music and recording with his band, The Tennessee Three.

Shortly after a few failed releases, Cash gained acclaim for his song “I Walk the Line,” a 1950s hit that remains popular today. Though his gospel-music aspirations at times took a back seat to his exploration of a more mainstream sound, Cash still recorded gospel tracks periodically, many of which can be found on Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth.

Cash recorded the music on the album from 1958 to 1983. Though many of the tracks have been previously released, others have not, and the new material gives the set a fresh spin. Songs like “Truth,” “Back in the Fold” and “What is Man” appear for the first time on this collection.

The album consists of traditional gospel and folk tracks as well as original tracks that Cash wrote. Religious listeners might even recognize some of the tracks as hymns.

His recognizable, bass-baritone looms throughout the album and gives a dark twist to the upbeat songs. Even when singing gospel music, Johnny Cash remains the “Man in Black.”

Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth has a simple sound, avoiding most complicated musical elements. As in other Johnny Cash recordings, the singer’s voice and delivery contain more power than the music behind it.

The album has something for both gospel-music listeners and fans of Johnny Cash. The spiritual nature of the songs holds religious significance, but Cash’s talent and popular sound still resonates, making the tracks less traditional gospel music.

The songs mostly feature Cash’s country-blues sound, but some tracks come across a little differently. “I’ve Got Jesus In My Soul,” a traditional gospel song that Cash recorded with the Carter Family, sounds more like a church band performance than a Johnny Cash song. But the album is not compiled to emphasize Cash’s dark persona; instead, it demonstrates his more religious characteristics.

Still, despite the spiritual lyrics, the two discs pay a good tribute to Johnny Cash’s career. They embody his sultry sound while attributing religion to his music. The spiritual component does not suppress his obvious talent.

Print Friendly