Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth by Johnny Cash

As Johnny Cash states in Cash: The Autobiography, “There was never any dividing line between Johnny Cash the Christian and plain old Johnny Cash.” If that wasn’t already clear from the regular inclusion of inspirational numbers on his albums or the manner in which his all-gospel collections held true to his overall style, it’s made newly explicit on the fourth installment of the Bootleg series of archival Cash recordings.

Drawn from a period in Cash’s career (1975–1983) in which his popularity had lessened, the 51-song collection (19 of them Cash originals) demonstrates the ongoing consistency and integrity of his labors despite lower sales. Disc one, which contains the full 1979 set A Believer Sings the Truth, proves to be the richest, most varied and most Cash-characteristic portion of this archival set, adorned by vocal backing from The Carter Family and duets with numerous friends and family members, adding a celebratory and personal tone. 

The previously unavailable “Truth,” a Cash recitation of a poem of Sufi origin given to Johnny by boxer Muhammad Ali, indicates the singer’s noteworthy ability to find resonance in a view of God delivered from a divergent faith perspective—a move perhaps even more controversial to Christian believers today than when the shelved track was first recorded. 

Cash espouses predominantly straight-ahead Christian doctrine and a Southern-gospel-leaning style on tracks from an unreleased 1975 project. These are the least energetic and boundary-pushing of the bunch, though some lost gems do surface. One, “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” offers spine-chillingly prophetic lines from June Carter Cash, who indeed sailed from this earthly shore prior to her husband, as she predicts would be the case on this poignant and intimate cut. 

Closing the extensive package are sessions produced in 1982 by Marty Stuart, who brings forth an austere set that hews closely to Johnny’s country-gospel roots and early signature sound. These essential elements, though, are rarely far from the surface throughout The Soul of Truth, which pointedly reflects the source of the light behind virtually all the work of the Man in Black.  

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