Series: Johnny Cash – American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways
I have been LOVING this series. These American Recordings CDs are bloody gorgeous. And here we have a fifth volume? Oh man, let’s go!
Help Me (a Larry Gatlin song) is a beautiful guitar and vocal track with perfect cello accompaniment. It’s haunting and a little sinister, while he begs for help. Amazing.
God’s Gonna Cut You Down, a traditional, has this great foot-stomp-hand clap beat as the guitar noodles bluesily and Johnny spreads his warnings. Superb.
Like The 309 starts out with a plaintive Johnny intro, then the blues acoustic guitars and a light drum tap takes over. This is gorgeous. I liked this so much I played it twice in a row. Could I play it, like, 309 times? Sure. Soberingly, this is also the last song Cash ever wrote before he passed away.
If You Could Read My Mind sees Johnny gently singing this classic Gordon Lightfoot track, as an acoustic guitar picks a bit and the piano lays down a cushion of chords. Beautiful.
Further On (Up The Road), a Bruce Springsteen song, manages to somehow sound simultaneously happy and sad. It’s blues, country, roots Johnny at his best.
On The Evening Train, a Hank Williams song is, here, a pretty acoustic and piano track. It sounds so simple, but you have to know it isn’t. Johnny injects this with a lot of feeling and beauty.
I Came To Believe is a song Cash wrote for these sessions, and it’s a really pretty spiritual-style track, arpeggiating guitar and strings holding it all together. He sings this with soul.
Love’s Been Good To Me (a Rod McKuen track) is another total winner. It’s just going through old girlfriends (if they even existed) and saying how love had made life better. Beautiful arrangement, the strings give it lift, the guitar and piano give it a strong frame. This song’s lyrics also give the album its title.
A Legend In My Time (a Don Gibson track, also recorded by Roy Orbison) is one of those songs that has classic country lyrics. There’s humour masking pain, witty rhymes covering an open heart. Perfect.
Rose Of My Heart (by Hugh Moffatt) is a love song that gets a stunning rendition, here. And Johnny’s old, tired voice make it that much more emotional. Wow. You know, June died in 2003, and these songs were recorded in 2003 (released in 2006). It’s pretty easy to imagine Johnny was singing this one directly to June, either just before or just after she passed away. This is lump-in-your-throat material.
Four Strong Winds (an Ian Tyson track, of course) aches and lilts its way through a beautiful rendition. All the parts come together into a perfect whole.
I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now (Herscher/Klein) ends the album with aplomb. “There were tears on the mail Mother wrote me in jail, but I’m free from the chain gang now.”
Once again, a long and fine list of musicians added their talents to this record, many returning from previous instalments. Laura Cash, Randy Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Benmont Tench, and on and on with the great players here.
This posthumously-released record is superlative. Johnny does sound older here, now. He sounds tired. And rightfully so. But he’s still got so much to say. And he found the best possible way to do it.