on 8 May 2006
Perhaps the best analogy i can use to describe the impact these American Recordings had on Johnny Cash admirers, is to try and imagine how the disciples must have felt upon dicovering the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty.Sure we all knew what Johnny Cash stood for, what he sounded like and what he sung about, but even so these songs were and still are, a revelation.An artistic rebirth virtually without comparison.
Stripped down to only his guitar and that wonderful deep voice, Cash commands a presence so powerful and stirring these songs are carved in granite for witnesses to marvel at many, many years from now.
And the songs themselves, whether from his own pen, or from those of others, all now become Johnny Cash songs.It almost doesn't matter the talents behind such classics as "Why Me Lord" or "Bird On The Wire", the composers give way to the singer, because it's the way Johnny Cash gives a voice to the infatuated murderer in "Delia's Gone", or to the Vietnam veteran in "Drive On", or to his own deepest fears in "The Beast In Me", or to his own highest beliefs in "Redemption" or "Down There By The Train", or to his own long, troubled life in "Like A Soldier" or "Let The Train Blow The Whistle", that make this album a deeply honest journey into the artists own sucesses and failings.But one that connects to all those willing to listen for in doing so he speaks for all the little parts in whole of us that make up the whole, neither fully good or completely bad.Cash had the unique gift of being able to take you to the very gates of hell with one song, but always offer up the chance of redemption with the next.
So if you have any interest in Johnny Cash, in music, or just in what makes us who we are, then buy this album, buy the other American Recordings in the series, buy the "Unearthed" boxset, just so you can say you saw and heard the legendary Man in Black walk and talk it like only he could, for the very final time.
Johnny Cash died today, less than four months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash. He was one of the most influential and imposing figures in country music, with his deep, resonant baritone and his spare, percussive guitar. Cash never did sound like Nashville, which explains part of the animosity that existed between the two. The greatness of Johnny Cash was that the Man in Black combined the emotional honesty of folk music and the rebellion of rock 'n' roll with the weariness inherent in country music. The question of the day is what Johnny Cash album should you listen to in order to appreciate the full measure of the man and his music. A greatest hits collection seems the obvious choice and it is hard not to think of "Ring of Fire," "I Walk the Line," "A Boy Named Sue," and other classic Cash songs on a day like today. But I want to make an argument for "American Recordings."
This 1994 album won the Grammy Award for Contemporary Folk recording, and so I freely admit that my choice might have something to do with my affection for authentic folk music and my usual avoidance of country music. The album was responsible for Cash's final reemergence as a major figure in contemporary American music and if you do not know the story the key parts are that Cash signed with Rick Rubin's American Recordings. Rubin had produced Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys but topped himself by having Carter record mostly his own songs accompanied only by himself on a guitar. For those of us familiar with the recordings of America's troubadour Woody Guthrie or the early New York City recordings of Bob Dylan, this approach makes perfect sense. This is Johnny Cash stripped down to the essentials and they are pretty impressive.
This is proven with the opening track, "Delia's Gone," which is probably the best known track from the album since it was a music video that introduced Cash on MTV to the alternative-grunge generation. There are several choice covers on which Cash ruins the songs for their creators by making them their own, such as Nick Lowe's "The Beast in Me," Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me Lord?", Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," and Tom Waits' "Down There by the Train." But the original songs are the real gems here, including "Redemption" and "Like a Soldier." The two live tracks recorded at L.A.'s Viper Room seem unnecessary, but that is how a lot of people first heard Cash sing, so it is hard to question it as unappropriate. Besides, Cash does his own liner notes. If you have never heard "American Recordings," the first of four solid albums Cash recorded with Rubin, then this is as good as time as any. As the Man in Black could have told you himself, better late than never.
Stripped back to only guitar and Cash's inimitable baritone, we are reminded of the Man in Black's genius. Indeed this recording heralded not just a revival of Cash's musical fortunes, but in the autumn of his life I believe he entered his finest phase as an artist. With this and the following three albums with American Records and Rick Rubin, Cash drew on the experience of his explosive life to deliver music of an unmatchable emotional power.
'Delia's Gone' is a fitting successor of 'Folsom Prison Blues', giving even the most irredeemable criminal a voice; 'The Beast in Me', 'Why Me Lord' and 'Redemption' speak of Cash's own struggles with his demons and his eventual salvation; 'Drive On' and 'Let The Train Blow The Whistle' burn with Cash's macho swagger;'The Man Who Couldn't Cry' is just plain hilarious.
A unique musical experience transcending genre, this is the artist unadorned as genius. Like Cash himself, this is elegantly simple, bleakly compelling, and untimately inspirational and transfiguring. The perfect intoduction to the greatest figure in modern music, who though greatly missed, still exerts a powerful presence.
on 16 August 2006
Johnny Cash is one of those artists that almost everybody has heard of, but is all too often filed under the "past sell by date" category that long-lived musicians often fall into. I myself once believed that; but following the Man in Black's departure from this world I was amazed to see the incredible respect that this aged hero was commanding from beyond the grave. The release of "Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire" greatest hits albums were my first insights into what has now turned out to be a lifetime of epic proportions.
Whilst listening to said album, I came across songs that I knew already, and at first was shocked to think that JC had written one of U2's biggest hits and even a 9 inch nails song. On further investigation, I discovered the truth, which led me to the "American Recordings" series.
These albums are, quite frankly, some of the greatest, most honest and heart rending collections of music that have ever been compiled. The first album is as stripped down as music can get, meaning you really listen to the words of the song and get completely immersed in the imagery and stories being described. JC's voice is so distinctive and inescapable you will almost feel guilty if you ever have to stop the album midway, like cutting off a grandfather in the midst of a war story. No one else seems to convey the amount of pain, longing and pity that he does, and you often become so immersed in a song you feel like he's right next to you in the room.
And the pace doesn't slow down at any point in the series. JC has an incredible talent of immersing himself into every song he performs, like a great actor giving the performance of his life. The only difference is that you know Johnny is singing from experience rather than putting on a show, and is making this music from the bottom of his soul for our enjoyment, not to fill his pockets. Even songs like "Danny boy" and "bridge over troubled water" are imbued with that indescribable Cash-ness, to the point that you forget that they're not even his songs. Combine that with the religious aspects that give many of his songs a prayer like quality, and you'd have to have a heart of stone to not be moved at some point during listening.
Each album is another step in a journey, and is impossible to fault, therefore represent some of the only examples were 5 stars are completely justified. If you buy them one at a time you'll be desperate for the next by the time you've listened through the previous, and it keeps on going even when you reach the end of the series when that terrible, hollow feeling creeps into your stomach. It's only then that you realise the world has been deprived of one of the most unique, emotive, distinctive and talented artists to have ever lived.
The Man in Black, A Solitary Man, A whirlwind in a thorn tree, whatever you want to call him one thing is for sure; Johnny Cash will live on in the hearts and minds of countless people for many, many years to come.
This album finally showed what Cash could do when allowed out of the cage which the 'Cash sound' had become for him. Much of Cash's very best work over the years has been singing without the support of a band, acoustic guitar only - but this is the first album he did with that theme. There are so many superb songs on this album. My particular favorites are 'Beast In Me', 'Delia's Gone', and 'Man Who Couldn't Cry', but three others come very close and the overall level of quality is astoundingly high.
Buy it, but don't stop with this one. It gets better with the later albums 'Unchained' and 'Solitary Man'. Believe it or not!
The stripped down style of this record showed how much of that J.R was still left in his soul. An honest and deep voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar that makes you think in those lonesome times of your life... a record to think, enjoy, laugh and be lonely.
A kind of truth that can only be heard from Johnny's voice ... Just listen...
on 1 July 2013
My knowledge of Johnny Cash's music has been building over the last year or so and I've now got round to the first of the later day albums, this being "American Recordings".
Johnny plays guitar and sings, 13 wonderful songs, so simply and in way that only the truly, talented can pull off. The album made in 1994, won Johnny a Grammy and deservedly so.
I wish I had discovered Johnny earlier, at least when this album came out.
This album deserves as much commercial success as it has critical acclaim. There is not a single poor song on the album, its perfect for relaxation, while the songs are performed with simplicity they have subtle variations in feel and pace. It would have been easy for such an album to become a bit dull after 13 acoustically performed songs, but not this one. The reason why this album is so good is due to the craft of the songs, the storytelling within, and the performance of one of the original masters.
It's timeless and simply STUNNING!, buy it now. I shall be buying the other 5 American albums soon.
on 11 July 2001
I've always maintained that just one voice and a geetar will struggle to be interesting for any length of time, however Mr. Cash decimates my rather feeble theory in fine style with this great, great record. Bookended by two pieces of marvellous sicko humour and filled out with songs of death, loserdom and getting to grips with God, it doesn't put a foot wrong anywhere, and leaves even the most committed falsettist with an irrepressible urge to sing so low that that their epiglottis will scrape the earths core.
on 28 January 2001
This was the album that marked something of a comeback for Cash. It also saw him eschew the "boom-chicka-boom" sound that had served him most of his career. Instead he brought in Rick Rubin as producer and recorded these songs with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment in Rubin's living room and Cash's cabin. The songs themselves are a good mixture of Cash originals and well chosen covers. Delia's Gone, Drive On and Let the Train Blow the Whistle are amongst the best he's ever written, while The Beast in Me and Bird on a Wire do more than justice to, respectively, Nick Lowe's and Leonard Cohen's originals. Also worthy of mention are Tennessee Stud, which featured heavily in the film Jackie Brown, and Down There By The Train, a song specially written for Cash by the equally brilliant Tom Waits.
I must admit that, other than being familiar with Johnny Cash's popular singles such as Ring Of Fire, I Walk The Line, Jackson, etc, my attention was really only drawn to the man following my having heard (and seen the remarkable video for) his version of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. This was such a compelling rendition that I had to investigate further, and now own all his recording collaborations with Rick Rubin, of which American Recordings was the first.
Now, I certainly would not class myself as a country (or indeed, folk) music fan. Indeed, I am also very sceptical when it comes to cover versions of other people's material. It is therefore very difficult to explain why this series of Cash albums should appeal so strongly to me. I believe it is the simplicity of the music and the deep conviction that comes across in his vocals that raise this music to a different level to most other music of this genre. Certainly, the song renditions on this album could hardly be simpler, all apart from two having been recorded in Rubin's living room or Cash's cabin, featuring only Cash and his guitar, with no other musical accompaniment.
American Recordings comprises 13 songs - 4 Cash originals and 9 covers. Remarkably, three of the covers Cash performs here, namely 'horror punk'(!) guru Glenn Danzig's Thirteen, Nick Lowe's The Beast In Me and Tom Waits' Down There By The Train were written specifically for Cash, demonstrating the high esteem in which Cash was held by his fellow musicians. These three covers are all outstanding, as are those of Leonard Cohen's Bird On A Wire and Loudon Wainwright III's The Man Who Couldn't Cry. But for me, the two outstanding songs on the album are the Cash compositions Redemption, a heartfelt lament full of religious imagery, and Like A Soldier, in which Cash likens his life struggle to that of a war survivor.
A beautiful and poignant record.