[170] Johnny Cash – American Recordings

8 Apr

I think maybe you already have to be a Cash fan to enjoy this album. So it should come as no surprise that I love this 1994 album, and the rest of the American Recordings he produced right up until his death in 2003.

170 cash american

However, I do find it slightly unexpected that it was these stripped down, cowboy-gospel tinged songs that caught the attention of a new generation and made Johnny Cash relevant (yet) again.

This is an album I bought when it first came out, one which I enjoyed, but which never really got into regular rotation in the list of Cash albums I periodically play. Perhaps this is because it is hard to hear the pain in every note here, a pain which grew stronger as the voice grew weaker with each successive American Recording release, peaking / troughing with the magnificently tormented cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” on American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Each track on this first American installment is a perfectly formed, tiny-clean morsel of story song which, despite the pristine nature of the studio work, is somehow leaner even than the raw live recording of At Folsom Prison. I find it sometimes hard to get through the entire thing in one setting, even if the run time is only a beat over 40 minutes.

Perhaps I am once again underestimating how much pain the rest of the music buying population is in at any given moment.

Cash actively seeks out difficult situations here – a crime of passion, a veteran’s sad return to civilian life, and lots of mortality – and the super-minimal orchestration leave nothing for the words to hide behind. Cash is preaching and, though I often dislike preachers, in this case I believe the things his eyes claim to have seen, believe the pain his heart claims to have felt, both of which are clear in the diminished yet still deep-wide voice.

Revisiting songs he first wrote and recorded over thirty years prior, as in “Delia’s Gone”, is fascinating, but it is the new recordings which truly catch the attention.

Returning to the well of Kris Kristofferson – who wrote Cash’s 1970 hit “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” – “Why Me Lord” is a song that makes me profoundly uncomfortable yet which I can’t help but listen to again and again. And songs penned for Cash by Tom Waits and Glenn Danzig (as well as a Leonard Cohen cover) round out the stylistic feel of the album, setting the template for four more records in the series.

This is not the sound or style that I immediately think of when I hear The Man In Black in my head. And this is not an album I am going to queue up on Spotify when introducing him to my 10-year-old daughter. But in moments that call for quiet reflection on mortality, there are worse places I could start, and I can understand why Tom Moon paired this late career recording with the classic era At Folsom Prison as  bookends to exploring the career of the unique Johnny Cash.

Next Time: Dorival Caymmi – Caymmi E Seu Violao

Owned before blogging? Yes (14 of 170 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes (23 of 170 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes (142 of 170 = 84%)

One Response to “[170] Johnny Cash – American Recordings”

  1. Marc Rentzer April 17, 2020 at 11:05 AM #

    I listened to so much Johnny Cash (and these particular recording, some of which I’ve had and have loved) after reading this. Thank you!

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