Originally included as part of the exhaustive Unearthed box set of Johnny Cash's American Records recordings, My Mother's Hymn Book is exactly what it claims to be -- songs directly out of Cash's mother's old hymnal. Featuring Cash alone playing an acoustic guitar, this is a stark, beautiful, and simple album. In the liner notes, Cash calls this his favorite record he's ever made and it's clear that learning these songs as a child is what inspired his love of music. In that sense, despite no original material, these are some of the most personal songs Cash ever recorded; he even includes song-by-song commentaries that help illuminate what each track meant to him. For Merle Travis' "I Am a Pilgrim" Cash writes, "It's one of those old country gospel classics that my mother sang, that I knew I would record it someday." Of course, Cash recorded gospel songs before this album, as in 1959 with Hymns by Johnny Cash and again in 1962 with Hymns From the Heart and he usually included one gospel track per album. Never before though had he focused so purely on his Christian roots, and given what is known about his problems with drug abuse and the break-up of his first marriage, these songs seem to ring with the conflicts of joy and sorrow, guilt and redemption. Although technically not Cash's last recording, My Mother's Hymn Book represents where his musical career began and ultimately where it ended.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar