By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

April 1, 2004

Johnny Cash

A bewildering number of hit collections glut Johnny Cash's catalog, with titles that include claims such as "biggest," "greatest," "essential" and so on. And, in Cash's case, that's not false advertising.

But the best Cash collection, and one that goes far beyond the hits, is the three-disc set "Love God Murder" that was released in 2000. Each themed disc was chosen by the artist, and each was as intimate a look into a man's life as can be had via recordings.Now comes a sequel, "Life," the fourth disc in the set. It, too, was compiled by Cash in the months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, last May. Cash delivered the track list to his managers and record company just four days before he died in September.

Its 18 tracks span three record labels and the years 1959-88, and deal with the people, places, causes, events and, of course, faith that were so important to Cash.

The CD is bracketed by the family concerns of "Suppertime" and "Lead Me Gently Home." In between, Cash pays homage to heroes ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes," "The Night Hank Williams Came to Town") and to the nation ("Ragged Old Flag"); pleads for the downtrodden ("Man in Black") and chronicles outsiders ("Wanted Man," "Country Trash"); and sings of his faith and his love ("I Talk to Jesus Every Day," " You're the Nearest Thing to Heaven").

The highlight is the intensely personal "I Can't Go on That Way," a previously unreleased track from 1977 in which the protagonist, lamenting a wild lifestyle and host of vices, hits bottom.