My Magic To Take Me Through the Dark Places

One of my favorite Johnny Cash albums is My Mother's Hymn Book. Recorded late in his life, Cash sat down with his guitar and flipped through his mother's old hymn book recording some 20-25 songs in a single session, fifteen of which made it onto this album. The production is spare, just Cash's voice and his guitar.

These songs are also the songs of my hymn book, the songs I grew up with. "I'll Fly Away." "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies." "In the Sweet By and By." "Softly and Tenderly." "Just As I Am."

In the liner notes of the album Cash says that My Mother's Hymn Book was his favorite album. And in describing the songs he selected he says this:
They're powerful songs, my magic to take me through the dark places.
I can bear witness. These songs have been my magic as well.

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8 thoughts on “My Magic To Take Me Through the Dark Places”

  1. Indeed!!! Those classical hymns should have never been considered old bath water. As you and Johnny bear witness, they have magic. I remember them being sung by the Chuck Wagon Gang. My father and my grandparents loved them. And waking up in the morning, especially when visiting my grandparents, smelling the coffee perking and hearing the Chuck Wagon Gang on the radio singing the old hymns with as much purity as any human being can give them, created for me a divine memory. I wish those of my generation could have progressed and brought the old hymns along for the treasures they are.

  2. Exactly! Sometimes the theology of these folk hymns (my designation—which may not be accurate) may be terrible, but their power lies not in their theology. No, it lies in the fact that these songs express the deep longings of simple folk, and that's why they are magic in the dark places.

  3. Amen, wb. For me it is the poetry of those deep longings. Sometimes I think that those who no longer use them don't realize what they left behind, while those who still sing them don't realize what they have.

  4. Yes. Those songs are my magic too. Their words live in my bones and my spirit, and provide a foothold on dark days. A Mighty Fortress, It Is Well, Be Thou My Vision, Come Thou Fount - all so powerful.

  5. I didn't grow up with those hymns, but I've come to love them. Have you listened to Alan Jackson's "Precious Memories" album? Same hymns, not as stripped-down as Johnny Cash's, but done simply and without any of the showiness that turns me off to a lot of pop gospel. And beautiful, soul-touching harmonies.

  6. It's not on this album, but his and June's take on "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)" is an absolute all time favorite and certified jam and a half.

  7. Songs I grew up hearing my grandma sing either at the piano with me in her lap or out on the porch while she pushed me on the porch swing. Good tunes, and great memories.

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