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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Personal File

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 May
Personal File
Sounds like … the warm baritone of the Man in Black at his most stripped-down, just him and his acoustic guitarAt a glance … there's nothing intrinsically revelatory in Cash's Personal File other than the folk singer's deep love for country music, storytelling, and the gospel. Track ListingDisc One: The Letter Edged in Black There's a Mother Always Waiting at Home The Engineer's Dying Child My Mother Was a Lady The Winding Stream Far Away Places Galway Bay When I Stop Dreaming Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen Missouri Waltz Louisiana Man Paradise I Don't Believe You Wanted to Leave Jim, I Wore a Tie Today Saginaw, Michigan When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below) Girl in Saskatoon The Cremation of Sam McGee Tiger Whitehead It's All Over A Fast Song Virgie I Wanted so It Takes One to Know MeDisc Two: Seal It in My Heart and Mind Wildwood in the Pines Who at My Door Is Standing Have Thine Own Way, Lord Lights of Magdala If Jesus Ever Loved a Woman The Lily of the Valley Have a Drink of Water The Way Worn Traveler Look unto the East Matthew 24 (Is Knocking at the Door) The House Is Falling Down One of These Days I'm Gonna Sit Down and Talk to Paul What on Earth (Will You Do for Heaven's Sake) My Children Walk in Truth No Earthly Good Sanctified Lord, Lord, Lord What Is Man Over the Next Hill (We'll Be Home) A Half a Mile a Day Farther Along Life's Railway to Heaven In the Sweet Bye and Bye

The story of how Personal File—the latest in a long line of posthumous releases celebrating the heritage of Johnny Cash—came into being sounds too good to be true, almost as if it were the stuff of legend. Shortly after the deaths of Cash and his wife June Carter Cash, their son, John Carter Cash, decided to shut down the historic House of Cash, the family's renowned studio/office/museum.

Providentially, the younger Cash invited executives from Legacy Recordings to visit the premises. During an unofficial tour of the facility they unearthed, among other things, a number of neat white boxes the Man in Black had marked "Personal File." In them, there was a goldmine of unreleased material, informal sessions Johnny Cash never thought were suitable for commercial release.

He was right. At its most superficial, Personal File is exactly that, an unfettered two-disc collection of tunes—49 in all—dear to his heart, recorded during the artist's personal and spiritual renaissance following the periods of turbulence he faced in the '50s and '60s. There's no rhyme or reason to the order in which the tracks were recorded, but the compilers made sure to present them in a sensible manner, with all the love and story songs occupying Disc One and all the inspirational numbers grouped on Disc Two.

"Through times of loneliness and heartbreak and despair and sadness I've always found that a good song of inspiration will lift me up and make me feel just a little bit better," says Cash at the intro of "Who at My Door Is Standing," but we know "a little better" is an understatement. Through the majority of the spiritual songs, Cash sounds downright jubilant, particularly in the self-penned "Sanctified," where the singer reveals his newfound state of mind with unbridled conviction. If you don't mind looking past the simplicity of these recordings—all of them consist of just Cash and his guitar, after all—you'll discover a man coming to terms with his humanity, but also with his own faith and walk with God.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.