A new Johnny Cash box set collecting more than 100 outtakes from the country legend’s work over the past decade with Rick Rubin is being prepared by the celebrated producer for a possible Christmas release through American/Lost Highway.
Tentatively titled “Unearthed,” the collection will most likely span five discs, four of which will be composed entirely of previously unreleased material, Rubin reveals to Billboard.com. The fifth disc would be a compilation of tracks highlighting past four Cash studio albums, each recorded and produced by Rubin for his American Recordings label.
Rubin says over the past 10 years, he and Cash have amassed roughly 150 unused songs, including many covers and duets with the likes of Nick Cave and Fiona Apple, both of whom appeared on Cash’s 2002 album “American IV: The Man Comes Around.”
The first three discs of “Unearthed,” he says, will be composed of assorted leftovers, while the fourth disc will be an acoustic gospel album titled “My Mother’s Hymn Book.”
Among the songs slated for inclusion is a duet with late Clash frontman Joe Strummer on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” which will most likely also feature guitar work by Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave); a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” featuring Apple; and a take on “Cindy Cindy” that features Cave.
Of the latter, written by Ben Weisman, Buddy Kaye and Darrell Fuller and recorded by Elvis Presley, Rubin says, “It’s an old song from the ’50s that Nick actually suggested and Johnny knew well. I had never heard it before, but it’s really good.”
Cash and Rubin are also moving right along on the singer’s next American album. “He’s planning on coming [to Los Angeles] in September to take all the bits and pieces that we’ve worked on over the last two years and kind of flesh them out and finish them.” Among the songs being considered for the effort is Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds” which Neil Young covered on his 1978 acoustic classic, “Comes a Time.”
After the May death of his wife and longtime performance companion, June Carter Cash, the 71-year-old Cash has not only poured himself into work, but devoted the rest of his life to his music. “He kind of made a decision,” Rubin says. “He called me a couple of days after June passed and said that he really has dedicated his life to work and wants to be busy all the time and focused on songs. That’s what he wants to do, so that’s what we’re going to do [and] that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Rubin also notes that Cash, who suffers from diabetic neuropathy — a disease of the nervous system that leaves its victims susceptible to pneumonia — is doing well these days, physically. “He’s been really getting very healthy, and walking more and kind of really seems to be doing better than he has in years.”
Cash’s work with Rubin essentially reignited his career in the early ’90s (especially in the U.S.), thanks to the producer’s stripped-back, simple approach to the material. Many of their early recordings featured only Cash’s voice against his acoustic guitar work on such covers as Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” and Beck’s “Rowboat.”
“He’ll send me songs, I’ll send him songs,” Rubin says. “In Nashville, he’ll put down tracks, and then we either redo them out here or sometimes I’ll go to Nashville to work with him there. It’s kind of a constant work-in-progress, and we’re always working on something now.”