Celebration in music, memories on tap for 80th birthday of Johnny Cash

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A flurry of activity will greet the 80th birthday of Johnny Cash, including a museum dedicated to his life and the release of Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth, a 2-CD, 51-track collection of gospel and spiritual recordings from the 1970s and ’80s. The country and rockabilly legend died at 71 of complications from diabetes in 2003.

The new Cash museum — brainchild of Cash collector and Web site manager Bill Miller — is set to open later this year in the tourist-focused Lower Broadway section of Nashville. A number of items from the now-closed House of Cash, located in nearby Henderson, Tennessee, will be moved to this new site.

Meanwhile, groundbreaking on the project to preserve Cash’s childhood home in Dyess, Ark., will also take place on February 26, Cash’s birthday. The house will be restored to its 1930s-era appearance as part of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Project, led by Arkansas State University. Fundraising began last summer for the renovation. The university also has taken over other historic buildings from the New Deal-era Dyess Colony with the goal of capturing life in the area during the Great Depression.

Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth draws from the extensive catalog at Columbia Records, where Cash recorded from 1958 to ’83. Among his early faith-focused albums were 1959’s classic Hymns By Johnny Cash and 1968’s The Holy Land, among many others. This new compilation focuses on tracks made for a project called A Believer Sings The Truth, originally recorded for the small Cachet Records label in 1979, and from I Believe …, released by Arrival Records in 1984, among others. Legacy recordings also plans other Cash reissues for later this year — including a large box set, but details on those projects are not yet available.

“He appealed to people and still appeals to people who have a small CD collection and live in middle America just as much as the punk on the streets of Germany,” Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, said in published reports. “And that’s sort of magical the way he’s been able to do that still, that his image still draws people from all walks of life.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Johnny Cash. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

ONE TRACK MIND: JOHNNY CASH, DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALL RIGHT (2011): It’s one thing to cover somebody, quite another to expose something fundamentally true about the original song through your interpretation — and that happens with Johnny Cash’s take on this Bob Dylan classic. Issued as part of the two-disc Bootleg III: Live Around the World, “Don’t Think Twice” was recorded on July 26, 1964 during the Newport Folk Festival. The song, at that point, was just a year old — but even in these earliest moments, he and Dylan understood each others’ muse enough to make brave choices. Cash shows us new things about a song that has a kind of melancholy reverie in its original form — mainly, by slowing the track down to an amble, like a train gearing down to a slow rattle in the black of night.

JOHNNY CASH – AMERICAN VI: AIN’T NO GRAVE (2010): Johnny Cash leaves us, finally, much the same way he arrived — rustic, spiritual, unbent. But something, these newly released final recordings make clear, had changed. Cash died nearly seven years ago still in mourning over the absence of his one true love. But not before completing a song cycle that would continue through to this, the capstone recording. He worked until the end, displaying a familiar determination. Cash’s last session alone produced both this effort and 2006’s American V: A Hundred Highways. In this way, VI couldn’t have begun with a more prophetic lyric: “Ain’t no grave that can hold my body down,” Cash sings in the resolute opener.

JOHNNY CASH – AMERICAN V: A HUNDRED HIGHWAYS (2006): Rubin picked Cash up off the trash heap in 1993, mostly ignored if not forgotten by the Nashville money-making machine, and promptly went about what seems like common sense now but then seemed like a complete waste of time and energy to many. Rubin let Cash do what he does best: honesty. Thankfully, the public was interested enough that Cash recovered a little of what he was due and we the public recovered Cash although almost a little too late. Anyone paying attention lately is already aware the frailer, older and at-peril man often carries more emotional punch in his songs than the younger, more pissed off version for the simple reason that Cash was now endangered himself — and that’s true again here.

JOHNNY CASH – AMERICAN RECORDINGS (1994): When Rubin called Cash about doing a record, it was hard — especially, it’s said, for the country legend himself — to picture this shaggy outsider reviving a then-fallow career. Did he ever: The shockingly full-bodied “American Recordings” was perhaps the best country album of that year, and one which finishes among the top ranks of any that the legendary Cash ever issued. And that’s saying something. By turns brooding and funny (“The Man Who Wouldn’t Cry”), sobering (“Beast in Me”), and down-right scary (“Delia”), these “American Recordings” cover the sweep and depth of our country’s hopes and fears. Cash, even until the end, didn’t shy away from those tough questions, even if he somehow knew that the answers wouldn’t follow.

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