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Blues artist Justin Cash finds light at end of tunnel with local label
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Justin Cash was asked to record two more songs for his debut album "Beautiful World," he knew just what to choose — Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The song is an apt summation of the positive, never-quit attitude that has made Cash the newest signee at Shadow Mountain Records, the Salt Lake City-based recording label owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"After 10 years of small clubs, jerk [club] owners who don't pay you, and jerk people, the dues have paid off," said the 34-year-old Texan and father of three sons. "This is the light at the end of the tunnel."

Cash is a talented guitarist and flexible vocalist whose love of the blues has seeped into the way he picks and sings ever since he began taking guitar lessons from a Denver bluesman. While Cash's style of the blues is reminiscent of Jason Mraz and John Mayer rather than Muddy Waters or Eric Clapton, being a blues artist at Shadow Mountain Records is a first.

"We get submissions all the time," said Bob Ahlander, head of the label that is an arm of Deseret Book. "Not often do we get something like this. … We don't have anything like him at all."

"Shadow Mountain Records has a reputation that is changing," said Cash. "It's not just happy church music. I'm a contemporary blues artist."

For the first time, Shadow Mountain label executives will not be scanning the Billboard classical charts, but the Billboard blues charts. Although his album was released on July 31, this week the label has begun a marketing blitz that already has resulted in Cash's album breaking into the iTunes blues chart.

The signing almost didn't happen. Last year, Cash recorded the album with his band, then submitted the record to labels all over the country. He was a friend of Shadow Mountain's David Osmond — they served LDS missions at the same time in Spain — but expected to get a "No" from the label, thinking it was only interested in recordings from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

As expected, he didn't get an email from the label. In fact, he didn't hear from anyone for nearly six months.

There was a reason: About the same time Cash sent out his album, he changed the look of his website, and that included a different email. HE called his webmaster to ask why he hadn't been receiving emails.

The problem was quickly fixed, and soon hundreds of emails sent over the past six months flooded his in-box. With his wife, Annie, crying in the background, Cash noticed an email from Ahlander, who sounded interested.

"I loved him from the first," Ahlander said.

Cash called Ahlander immediately and left five voice-mails throughout the day. Finally, they reconnected, and Ahlander offered him a deal — but only if Cash recorded two more covers.

The album is a culmination of 10 years of work. Cash, the sole breadwinner in his growing household, said it was difficult to eke out a living as a musician. "Some nights, I would only make $40," he said of playing clubs around Dallas. "If I don't earn money, we don't eat."

But his positive world-view — which appears throughout "Beautiful World" — was never shaken.

"When I write, I try to think as positively as I can," he said of his craftsmanship style. "I turn off the inner critic. … There's plenty of negativism out there. So much of it brings you down."

dburger@sltrib.com

Give him a listen

To listen to Justin Cash, go to gojustincash.com

Music • Salt Lake City-based Shadow Mountain Records' newest signee brings diversity to label.
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