The musical legacy of Johnny Cash would be impossible to sum up in one word, but three might do the trick: Love, God and Murder. That’s the gist of an upcoming Cash anthology series/box set, with tracks from throughout his career handpicked by the Man in Black himself. The trilogy is currently set for a May 2 release.
“[Cash] put it together — he picked the songs and sequenced them,” said a spokesperson for Columbia/Legacy. “The way they were put together show the way the man’s mind works.”
According to the spokesperson, the project will be released as both as a box set and as three separate albums. Each volume will feature rare and unpublished photos, notes by Cash himself and an accompanying essay. Cash’s wife June Carter Cash will contribute the essay for Love, gun-happy filmmaker Quentin Tarantino will write the notes for Murder, and God will be tackled by Bono of U2 (who recruited Cash to sing “Wanderer” on their 1993 Zooropa album.)
“Big John sings like the thief who was crucified beside Christ, whose humble entreaties had Jesus promising that night he would see paradise,” writes Bono in his God essay. “Johnny Cash is a righteous dude, and he keeps righteous company with June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, but it’s the outlaw in him we love…the ‘thief’ who would break and enter your heart, and leave you with a nagging question, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?'”
Although the track listing is still being finalized, an educated guess would have the Love disc featuring Cash standards like “I Still Miss Someone” and “Flesh and Blood,” Murder highlighting “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Delia’s Gone” and the God set collecting the best of Cash’s many gospel covers. The trilogy will touch on every period of Cash’s nearly five decade career, including his Nineties albums with producer Rick Rubin. “It looks back and it looks forward,” said the spokesperson. “It’s very comprehensive.” The Love volume currently has seventeen tracks, while both the God and Murder volumes will have sixteen each.
In addition to the Love, God, Murder anthology, Cash fans can also look forward to an upcoming reissue of the classic At San Quentin album, complete with six unreleased tracks, and an album of new material by the end of the year. Although the country icon still suffers from the degenerative neurological disorder Shy-Drager Syndrome and was hospitalized for pneumonia before Christmas, his manager Lou Robbin says that Cash is in good spirits about his health and hopes to be finished on his third album with producer Rick Rubin by the end of next month.
“They’ve recorded about half the album periodically over the past several months, and Rick Rubin and John are looking to finish it in late March,” said Robbin, adding that the album should be ready for release before the end of the year — possibly before the end of summer. “It’s just a matter of when they finish deciding which songs will go on the album.”
Robbin said that the album will essentially be a combination of the motif of Cash’s last two American Records albums, American Recordings and Unchained. He confirmed that Cash has penned several new songs, but because a track listing has not yet been finalized he could not name any or reveal any possible covers (Cash’s previous two albums for Rubin included songs by the varied likes of Beck, Soundgarden and Danzig).
In regards to his health, Robbin says Cash’s doctors have taken a “more positive approach to his illness than they used to.” As a result, a live date here and there might not be out of the question. “I think that’s in the game plan once the album is finished,” said Robbin, noting that Cash feels that he’s in shape for performing again. “Not a hundred [dates] a year or anything like he used to, but, you know, [he’ll play] key situations.”
Lastly, Robbin confirms that Columbia Pictures is finalizing a deal with Cash, a director and producers to bring the Rock & Roll and Country Music Hall of Famer’s life story to the big screen. “It’ll be a major motion picture,” Robbin said. “We’ve purposely turned down all the movie-of-the-week offers through the years because that was the easy way out for everybody, and we felt that he deserved to have something that you’d see more than one night on television. We don’t know who will play Johnny yet, or June, but he will be deeply involved in the movie in a technical manner.”
There is no working title for the movie yet, but Robbin said that the director’s chair will be filled by James Mangold, who just directed Girl, Interrupted.