January 15, 1990 12:00 PM

johnny Cash

From “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue” up to this album, Cash has always shown an uncommon ability to ferret out songs that suit his deep rumble of a voice and his unexpectedly sly sense of humor.

This eclectic package includes the Harry and Sandy Chapin tune about fathers and sons, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and Elvis Costello’s enigmatic song about guilt and responsibility, “Hidden Shame,” as well as the standby “Family Bible.” For comic relief, there is “Backstage Pass,” one of four songs on the album written by Cash himself; it’s a friendly dig at Willie Nelson, suggesting that at one Nelson concert “There were wackos and weirdos and dingbats and dodos/ And athletes and movie stars and David Allan Coe.” (It also suggests the presence of “women who once did and some who still would.”)

Among Cash’s talents is an ability to go from send-up to sentiment. That lends a comfortable feel to his best records, as if he were just spinning yarns on the porch. So it seems not at all corny—wholly sincere in fact—that among the backup singers on “Family Bible” is Carrie Cash, Johnny’s mother. (Mercury)

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