August 03, 1981 12:00 PM

Johnny Cash

Not only aging gracefully but also profiting from the process—like a fine old bourbon—Cash, 49, is choosing material that splendidly suits his experience, from the bitterness of Jerry Lansdowne’s Thanks to You to the wisdom of middle age in Tom T. Hall’s A Ceiling, Four Walls, and a Floor. This album includes an inordinate proportion of talk-singing, considering that Johnny’s voice seems in fine shape. But since Cash talks a lot more mellifluously than most people sing, that’s no burden. There is one embarrassing cut, The Greatest Love Affair, a no doubt well-intentioned selection that turns out to be about patriotism, creating an unfortunate juxtaposition of images; Cash holding hands with the Statue of Liberty is one. But then The Reverend Mr. Black/Lonesome Valley, a tale about a noble preacher, which is both talked and sung, makes one realize both what a great gospel singer Cash could have been and what a great country singer he is.

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