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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

My Mother's Hymn Book

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Apr
My Mother's Hymn Book
Sounds like … the legendary country folk singer, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, singing his favorite Southern gospel hymnsAt a glance … poignant and nostalgic, Cash's final album offers sweet and simple hope for God's kingdom when this life is overTrack ListingWhere We'll Never Grow OldI Shall Not Be MovedI Am a PilgrimDo LordWhen the Roll Is Called Up YonderIf We Never Meet Again This Side of HeavenI'll Fly AwayWhere the Soul of Man Never DiesLet the Lower Lights Be BurningWhen He Reached DownIn the Sweet By and ByI'm Bound for the Promised LandIn the GardenSoftly and TenderlyJust as I Am

My Mother's Hymn Book was originally the fourth disc from Unearthed, the posthumously released 5-disc Johnny Cash boxed set in stores November 2003. Due to overwhelming critical acclaim and requests from fans, American Recordings and Lost Highway Records decided to also release the album separately.

Some people have mistakenly pegged this as a collection of Cash's previous gospel recordings. It was actually one of the last things Cash recorded in his home studio in early 2004, weeks before his wife June's passing and months before his own death. He described it as his favorite album, a collection of songs from his mother's book of hymns that she taught him growing up in Arkansas. Simply recorded in a one-day session—just him, his acoustic guitar, and his faith—the fact that famed heavy metal and rap producer Rick Rubin oversaw the project makes it even more unconventional.

Admittedly, this album earns more points for context than content. If any other artist released an album this simplistic and monotonous sounding, it'd quickly be labelled as uncreative and boring. Yet here's the Man in Black, singing familiar songs of faith with a still rich baritone and intimate production—somehow, it's all the more expressive because of it.

The liner notes include comments from Cash on each song that are testament to his faith: "I guess I might be a C-minus Christian, but I am one." Maybe it's simply that old gospel hymns are largely focused on the joys of heaven, but one gets the sense that Cash knew his time was near. It's not every day that you get to hear such a legendary artist so effectively sing goodbye to this earth while eagerly looking forward to life in heaven, and that's why My Mother's Hymn Book is truly something special.