Johnny Cash 

Personal File

Many notable artists shuffle off this mortal coil, only to endure the usual posthumous "previously unheard release" cash-in attempts. The superlative Personal File is far from that. File is a collection of voice-and-guitar-alone performances from 1973 to 1976 and the early '80s found in storage at the House of Cash studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee. These are not truncated rehearsal versions or shoulda-stayed-in-the-vault outtakes. Cash's resolute, compassionate baritone is uniformly superb throughout. His picking is minimal but precise and heartfelt. The songs hail from many sources: late-19th- and early-20th-century traditional songs like "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen"; the Carter Family-style "The Winding Stream"; old country hits like Johnny Horton's "When It's Springtime in Alaska"; contemporary writers such as John Prine and Rodney Crowell; plus Cash originals both secular and sacred. Nonbelievers shouldn't be put off by Cash's songs of praise; they are not of the "be this way or burn in hell" variety. "No Earthly Good" skewers the piously self-righteous. Gospel ain't gospel until it is spread/But how can you share it where you've got your head? Forget da Vinci's code — the astounding Personal File is Cash's Holy Grail.

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