Tribute albums dedicated to country music legends are fairly common these days. When done right, they serve to remind the listening public of the artist's body of songs and contribution to the genre. Less common, though as important, are albums that gather the songs that influenced an important artist. The Roots of Johnny Cash does just that, gathering songs from the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, and a number of others. Many, like Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon," will be familiar to fans of older country music. Most of these songs, "Rock Island Line," "Wreck of the Old '97," and "Wabash Cannonball," would be recorded by Cash at some point in his career. There are also several lesser-known influences like Vernon Dalhart, Leon Payne, and the Rouse Brothers. A particularly fascinating connection comes from the folk/blues contingent, featuring singers like Leadbelly and Furry Lewis; fascinating, because many forget that blues played a central role in early country music. Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train," infused with bluesy slide guitar, also reinforces this connection. The selections on The Roots of Johnny Cash emphasize that many of these influences were not contemporaries of Cash, meaning that he was firmly grounded in the past. This added to the uniqueness of his sound and approach. Indeed, there has always been a power in Cash's voice that reaches back to something more elemental. The Roots of Johnny Cash offers a good place for the listener to dig deeper into country music's past and to better understand the background of one of country music's greatest icons.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.