Unlike his pal Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash didn't merely flirt with a gospel phase or release an album or two of spiritually charged music. He revisited his churchy roots regularly throughout his 50-year career, perhaps a little too often for those of us who went to rock and roll to escape religion in the first place. Legacy's fourth installment in the vault-digging Bootleg
series highlights Cash's spiritual records from the '70s and '80s, namely A Believer Sings the Truth
and Johnny Cash — Gospel Singer
, as well as an entire album recorded in 1975 but never released. Cash gets down and dirty with Sister Rosetta Tharpe's great "Strange Things Happening Every Day" and Billy Joe Shaver's playfully hopeful "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal," but goes a little too cloying-gospel in his version of the oft-covered "Angel Band." Although the music itself is uniformly solid and harkens back to classic Sun Records rhythms ("Gospel Boogie [A Wonderful Time Up There]") or New Orleans ecstasy ("I've Got Jesus in My Soul"), there's absolutely no subtlety to be found. (The persistent gospel back-up singers make sure of that.) "We're gonna ride the Bible train now," Cash sings in "This Train Is Bound for Glory," asking those with vices to shape up or ship out. Or, better yet, get a ticket for the mystery train instead.
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