Series: Johnny Cash – American Recordings
I love the music of Johnny Cash.
Just getting that out there at the start of this series.
And for whatever you may think of Rick Rubin and his talents and approaches, we all must endlessly bless him for stripping back all the extra crap and just cleanly recording Johnny with an acoustic guitar.
I swear, this album sounds like Johnny’s right here in my living room, playing these songs just for me. It’s awesome. And of course it sounds like that – Rubin recorded the Man In Black playing the songs on this album in his own living room!
Johnny sounds older, maybe a little tired, but not bad. Wiki says this is his 81st album, and with the life he’d lived to that point, one would certainly understand.
The songs here are a treasure trove:
Delia’s Gone, which I think is a traditional tune(?) is just a brutal song. Seriously. That poor woman! All only made the more harrowing by Cash’s presentation. Next up is a Cash original, Let the Train Blow The Whistle and it’s gorgeous. Nick Lowe’s The Beast In Me is another surefire track, as is Cash’s own Drive On.
Kris Kristofferson’s Why Me Lord is right in Cash’s wheelhouse, and Thirteen (penned for Cash by Glenn Danzig in just twenty minutes) is really great. It’s the edit version – the full version is on the Unearthed boxed set. Oh, Bury Me Not (Introduction: A Cowboy’s Prayer) comes from the Lomaxes, so you know it’s a solid tune rooted in tradition. Johnny owns it.
Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire is a great, straight version, true to the original. Normally I say only Leonard can (and should) sing Leonard, but this is Johnny and so it’s all OK. The Jimmy Driftwood-penned Tennessee Stud was recorded live at the Viper Room (owned at the time by Johnny Depp) and is a very good run-through. Tom Waits wrote Down There By The Train for Cash, and while Cash’s version is pure Cash, I can also totally hear Waits doing it. [And you can too, it’s on Waits’ mind-blowing Orphans set].
Two Cash-penned tunes, Redemption, and Like A Soldier are next. Both are excellent. Man, I’m writing that a lot. But it’s so true! This is how Johnny was meant to be heard, and the song selections are just so great!
And rounding out the record is The Man Who Couldn’t Cry (live), a bit of a goof track, just listing all the crap that happened to a man who couldn’t cry. It’s funny once, but I might have left it off.
In sum: A near-as-dammit perfect record, the way Cash was meant to be heard. A cornerstone for any collection. So essential, it goes without saying.