American V: A Hundred Highways
Producer Rick Rubin ensured that Johnny Cash’s final decade was one that played to the elder statesman’s musical and ideological strengths. They recorded and released four albums together before Cash’s death in 2003 and this is the fifth collection. Cash’s vocals were recorded in 2002-2003, with Rubin adding the overdubs posthumously. Not surprisingly, the songs center around death and in Cash’s intimate, wobbling tone take on both a strength and fragility that is breathtaking in its splendor. It includes his final composition, “Like the 309,” where a train takes his casket away, and many other chilling glimpses at a man in declining health facing his final days. From Bruce Springsteen’s “Further On (Up the Road)” to folk standards such as Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds,” the songs take on a gravitas that makes their original intentions seem like a recounting of puppy love. In keeping with previous Rubin productions, the arrangements are quiet and well suited, orchestrated in spots with Cash’s voice front and center.