Not to be confused with the 1992 triple disc box set of the same name, Essential, is a two disc collection with minimal packaging. A good one stop introduction to Cash, with the significant omission of anything from his three albums recorded with Rick Rubin in the 1990s, the disc boasts tracks from every era of his career. In addition to his own solo hits, duets with wife June Carter Cash, Marty Robbins, Bob Dylan, The Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings and U2 make for a more complete picture of the artist than most anthologies present.
Hymns is exactly what the title implies… a dozen traditional tunes, plus an alternate version of the opening song, ‘It Was Jesus.’ Even with the bonus track the disc clocks in at just under a half hour. But what a great half hour. Recorded in 1958/1959, Cash had been discouraged from singing gospel while signed to his first label, Sun Records, and anxious to make up for lost time when he inked with Columbia. From the first notes it’s obvious this is tried and true, primo Cash. Rather than offering up a neutered version of what made him famous, these are raw, passionate performances. Five of the songs are written by the man himself. In the updated liner note Cash describes the album as “some of my best work.”
One caveat – while this is advertised as a deluxe “expanded edition,” the very same album was reissued by Columbia/Legacy ten years ago, as ‘The Gospel Collection’ with a dozen bonus tracks comprising his 1961 follow-up album, Hymns From The Heart. Yet another version was released two years ago; Hymns By Johnny Cash/Sings Precious Memories which coupled the original album with a gospel effort from 1975. Both versions remain in print.
© John Cody 2002