In the liner notes for this release, Johnny Cash says “My Mother’s Hymn Book” is his favorite Johnny Cash album, and the recordings bear him out. Though on the surface this collection’s man-and-his-guitar sound is identical to 1994’s “American Recordings,” he brings a deeper level of passion to these beloved old songs. You can hear the love—for his mother, for music, for God—in his voice. He never overdoes it, either. Half the time it’s almost like he’s talking to you as much as singing; he’s lived with these hymns his whole life, so they float easily from his lips. This is simple and pure, a reflection of the way he seemed to live his life in those final days.
I know I’m one of the last people on earth still buying CDs, but if you don’t have this yet, I strongly urge you to pick up the physical copy (it’s also part of the “Unearthed” box set from ’03). The liner notes are an essential part of the listening experience, with comments from Cash and his family explaining why these songs meant so much to him, track by track. He talks about hearing two of these hymns at his brother’s funeral, how his mother loved some of them so deeply, and how his entire family sang “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” around his father’s hospital bed.
More than anything, though, “My Mother’s Hymn Book” is a tremendous Christian witness. Cash isn’t just paying lip service to a genre he likes; these songs were etched into his soul, and, in a way, tell his own life’s redemption story. It’s like he combined all these hymns into one when he wrote “I Came to Believe” for “American V.”
This is moving, beautiful work.
God loves music and that music brings hope for a better tomorrow. —Johnny Cash