Album Review

Johnny Cash - Hymns From The Heart

Johnny Cash

Hymns From The Heart

Columbia

Release Date: June 17th, 1962

Words by: Nathan Wood
September 17th, 2012

5.0

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There are two distinct images projected in my brain whenever I think of Johnny Cash.

The first is the image of Cash in the 2003 video clip for his cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'hurt' – a haggard old man, nearing the end of his days, his face cratered and weary and ready for death. It's hard not to think of that clip and it's rare that an artist of such monolithic proportion has been captured on film in such a vulnerable state. It is a forlorn yet strangely amazing image that will be etched into many people's memories as a permanent epitaph for Cash.

The other image that jolts to mind when I recall the Man in Black, is the iconic, badass image of Cash flipping the bird to the camera. Taken in 1969 during the rehearsal for his legendary San Quentin performance, it is one of the defining images in rock and roll and it highlights the anger and intensity Cash was infamous for in his youth.

Hymns From The Heart represents a period and an image of Cash's life that he is not commonly remembered for these days – the image of a devout man of faith.

As its name suggests, this is an album purely devoted to Johnny Cash playing covers of traditional gospel songs. His trademark, guttural drawl ripples on every track, accompanying beautifully simplistic guitar strums that waltz the melody along next to a plodding bass line, swinging drum beats, and an ever present choir of gospel singers that provide a suitably church service-like atmosphere throughout the record. It isn't groundbreaking, it isn't innovative, it isn't original. It is what it is – a gift to God.

It's for that reason that I find it impossible to judge this record in terms of artistic merit. Instead I recognize it as a time capsule – a representation of a period and a place where artists made statements and committed acts of faith. And for all the preaching and posturing and righteousness of stars, faith doesn't really have anywhere near a presence in music, culture or the music business these days. It's impossible to imagine a modern day country star like Blake Shelton or Tim McGraw making even a single, similar album entirely devoted to God, even if they wanted to. It just wouldn't sell or have the same impact. Whereas Cash made 11 gospel albums in his lifetime.

This isn't an album that I will likely listen to again after this review, but it has added a third picture to my mental slideshow of the legend that is Johnny Cash. An image of a man, in front of a church, ready to bare all for his faith.

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