Christmas With Johnny Cash
It's very eerie reviewing a new Johnny Cash Christmas collection on the morning of his death, September 12, 2003, exactly three months after the passing of June Carter Cash. It's weird to even think about Christmas without Johnny Cash in the world. But nonetheless, what has been given to listeners by Legacy's fine reissue department is a collection of 12 songs recorded between 1962 and 1980. Many of these songs will be familiar to the Cash faithful, since all but one song have been previously released, but there are a few surprises. Cash's own "The Christmas Spirit," from an album of the same name recorded in 1962, is moving in that otherworldly way that only Cash could be. He spoke and sang as a man forgiven. Likewise, his "O Come All Ye Faithful" is a different reading of the song. Rather than just a work of power and majesty, one can hear in the grain of his voice not so much a rallying cry, but a gentle exhortation to open one's eyes and see. In "Silent Night," the earth whispers to a profound stillness. But the most moving track here is the final one, the unreleased "Christmas as I Knew It," from a rehearsal for The Johnny Cash Show. Cash intones a poem about his childhood, strumming a guitar with vibes quietly in the background before strings come up underneath, offering an opening into the gentle, stalwart dignity in Cash's delivery that every word is true. And it was true — every word — for 50 years in the music business; every word, whether lived or imagined, was all true. And in the spirit of Christmas there is something to be grateful for: we at least had Johnny Cash in this old world.