Johnny Cash -- Cash - Ultimate Gospel (Columbia/Legacy)
With the myriad of Johnny Cash anthologies currently available, it is remarkable that this is the first to assemble the artist’s finest sacred sides. Although not strictly chronological, the two-dozen selections span a sizable (’57 - ’78`) portion of The Man In Black’s prolific back catalogue. The highlights of which are a trio of previously unearthed performances.
The opener “Here Was A Man” is a Tex-Ritter co-penned recitation from The Johnny Cash Show (1970) long player. The Rev. Billy Graham -- who inked a personal liner notes tribute for the set -- is featured on “The Preacher Said ‘Jesus Said’,” -- with the noted theologian providing excerpts from one of his sermons. “I Was There When It Happened” and “Belshazzar” hearken to the end of his stint on Sun Records as the Tennessee Two -- Luther Perkins (guitar) and Marshall Grant (bass) -- provide their familiar support.
The Carter Family nugget “Troublesome Waters” stands out with vocals by June Carter and her singing siblings. She likewise shares the spotlight on another hidden treasure titled “Far Side Banks Of Jordan.” “My Ship Will Sail” -- one of the three previously unreleased songs -- predates the version ultimately issued on Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town (1987) by over a decade. The other rarities -- “How Great Thou Art” and “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)” -- both hail from an early ‘80s session with Marty Stuart on guitar .
And what gathering of Johnny Cash’s greatest gospel recordings would be complete without the songs that he truly made his own, most notably the long-time concert staples “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “The Great Speckled Bird,” “He Turned The Water Into Wine,” “(There Will Be) Peace In The Valley,” and “Daddy Sang Bass.”
Dolly Parton -- Coat of Many Colors (RCA Nashville / Legacy)
Dolly Parton -- My Tennessee Mountain Home (RCA Nashville / Legacy)
Dolly Parton -- Jolene (RCA Nashville / Legacy)
By the early ‘70s, Dolly Parton began to emerge from the shadows of Porter Wagoner’s musical sidekick to embark in earnest on her solo career. The artistic course charted on these three recently remastered titles reveals Parton’s considerable assets as a consummate country and western singer, as well as masterful storyteller.
Coat Of Many Colors (1971) remains among Parton’s strongest long players. The autobiographical title track, “Coat Of Many Colors” gained notoriety for its humbling and intimate subject matter, while the sacred parallels she draws upon give it an eternal charm. The song also fared well on the charts -- making it into the Top Five -- as did “Travelling Man” and “My Blue Tears”.
The original running order has been supplemented with a trio of unreleased performances, highlighted by an acoustic demo of the aforementioned “My Blue Tears,” Parton’s take on Porter Wagoner’s “The Tender Touch Of Love,” as well as her original “My Heart Started Breaking”. “Just As Good As Gone” is a rare b-side to the 1972 single “Washday Blues” and has been out of print for the better part of three decades.
The success of Coat of Many Colors informed the equally heartfelt My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973). The entire project was Parton’s first to include all original material. Although she’d been away from home for nearly ten years, Parton ably turned a bout of homesickness into exceptional art. Opening the musical diary is “The Letter,” an intensely private correspondence to her family back in East Tennessee. The titles “Old Black Kettle,” “Daddy’s Working Boots,” and “I Remember” are fairly self-explanatory odes to her childhood. All the more personal is “Dr. Robert F. Thomas,” as she pays tribute to the old country doctor who actually delivered her. The suitably-themed “Sacred Memories” -- from the currently out-of-print Love Is Like A Butterfly (1974) -- is offered up as the sole bonus track.
Although Jolene (1974) is chronologically the last in the batch, it might be the most significant in Dolly Parton’s continual development. It marked a milestone in terms of her crossover appeal as well, with the song “Jolene” topping Country music surveys and making sizable inroads on Pop and Adult Contemporary countdowns. Yet, it was the epic ballad “I Will Always Love You” that became the cornerstone of the album, if not Parton’s entire songbook. In retrospect, it is easy to see Jolene as a coming of age declaration-meets-‘Dear John’ letter.
Nearly 20 years before Whitney Houston turned the tune into an international hit, Parton used the lyrics as a professional farewell to her longtime mentor and partner, Porter Wagoner. “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene” obviously resounded with listeners, as they were both Number One smashes -- the first of nearly two dozen more Parton would score over the next 17 years. Three of the four never-before-issued ‘bonus tracks’: “Cracker Jack,” “Barbara On Your Mind” and “Last Night’s Lovin’,” all hail from the same session that yielded “I Will Always Love You”. Likewise, the final supplementary side, “Another Woman’s Man” was recorded over the same two-day period that would also produce the title song “Jolene”.
Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and is the weekday on-air producer at WDYT 1220 AM in Charlotte, NC. He's also a contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
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