Sounds like … country and Americana flavored gospel originals, plus covers of other church favorites, resembling the classic sound of Tennessee Ernie Ford, George Beverly Shea, and Cliff Barrows.

At a glance … this first single disc collection of Johnny Cash's best gospel recordings is a delightful testament to the faith and musical legacy of The Man in Black.

Perhaps you enjoy classic Johnny Cash while also sharing his love of American gospel. Aside from albums devoted to the genre, like Hymns by Johnny Cash and Precious Memories, you'd have to trace his expansive fifty-year catalog of music for samples of his faith in song. That is, until this collection, marketed as the first single CD devoted entirely to "the music dearest to Cash's heart."

Cash: Ultimate Gospel collects 24 of The Man in Black's most inspirational tracks from albums between 1957-1981, though naturally most of them come from the '70s after his rededication to Christ. Among them are covers of familiar spirituals ("Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Were You There"), hymns ("Amazing Grace"), and gospel classics ("Peace in the Valley," "In the Sweet By and By").

Yet timeless church favorites aside, this compilation is even more striking with its array of relatively obscure originals, some by The Man in Black himself. Cash's "He Turned the Water Into Wine" in particular could pass for a traditional gospel favorite, while "The Preacher Said 'Jesus Said'" pays tribute to his friendship with Reverend Billy Graham. The Carter Family's "Troublesome Waters," meanwhile, bears pleasant passing resemblance to "Blessed Assurance," and "Here Was a Man" (from Cash's television show in the'70s) offers a rather inspiring spoken word summary of Christ's life.

Longtime fans will also appreciate familiar guest appearances (The Carter Family, Carl Perkins, Johnny Western, and Marty Stuart to name a few) as well as three previously unreleased tracks ("How Great Thou Art," "My Ship Will Sail," and "It Is No Secret"). And who can forget the wonderfully, eerily prophetic "Far Side Banks of Jordan," in which June sings that she'll be waiting for Johnny in heaven someday—25 years before their deaths.

It all adds up to a charming testament to Cash's faith and musical legacy. As well compiled as it is, this almost leaves you wanting more. But then there's always room for Ultimate Gospel 2.

Cash: Ultimate Gospel
Our Rating
4½ Stars - Excellent
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Release Date
March 6, 2007
Legacy Recordings
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