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Veritas in vinyl: Spiritual songs of Johnny Cash

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The man in black and his raw longing for truth and mercy

Today, Johnny Cash would have turned 85 years old. Its hard to imagine that we’ve been without his iconic voice for 14 years. The star, who’s popularity rivaled Elvis Presley’s, often featured songs that expressed his faith in raw and beautiful ways. In honor of the birthday of The Man in Black, we’re happy to share some of our favorites!

1) Were you there when they crucified my lord

Sometimes it causes me to tremble…

An old hymn that he shares with the Carter family. It opens up as quiet and reverent as you’d expect before building into a leisurely rhythm. We especially like June’s keening, haunting, howl at each chorus, which brings to mind a grieving and lonely wolf in the desert. Quite fitting for the subject matter.

2) The Man Comes Around

Everybody will be treated just the same

It’s not every day you find a popular song that opens with the recitation of scripture, but if anyone could pull it off, Cash could, and he does. The arrangement is very simple, just vocal and a guitar until the chorus brings a piano that opens the whole thing up in dramatic fashion.

3) Why me lord?

What did I ever do that was worth love from you?

This song is a prayer and a conversation, an expression of humble gratitude and a wish to grow in faith. It is made all the more poignant through a stark arrangement. Veritas on vinyl.

4) Wayfaring Stranger

But beauteous fields arise before me, where God redeems

Cash always loved a haunting tune, and this classic is made all the more so by his weathered voice. Together with a splendid violin solo from his daughter-in-Law, Laura Cash and with a surprising turn on the accordion by Sheryl Crow, new life is brought to this classic.

5) Wings in the Morning

Wings in the morning to carry us home

A hymn written by Cash that is extremely catchy. The voices behind him add a much more cheerful feel to the song than he could produce solo. We love Cash when he is a little jaunty.

6) God’s Gonna Cut You Down

Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back-biter…

One of Cash’s most famous recordings sounds as though it was created expressly to be part of a Tarantino trailer, or a dark Western.  As with When the Man Comes Around, this is another cautionary song, trying to warn us against the consequences of sin, and selfishness and denial. The constant stop-clap rhythm really gives the feel that Fate is marching toward all of us.

7) Will the Circle Be Unbroken

There’s a better home awaiting in the sky

Saved the best for last. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed a public service when they put this together. Cash opens it all up, but then he is joined by all of the greats: Ricky Scaggs, Buce Hornsby, Bela Fleck, Chet Atkins, the list really doesn’t seem to stop. Our favorite part is the 4 part harmony that The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sings at the end.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cash. We hope that you are resting peacefully in that better home in the sky.

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