American III: Solitary Man
The third installation of Rick Rubin's Johnny Cash career revitalization project features the same modus operandi that made all their collaborations rich and fulfilling. Rubin pairs Cash with an eclectic range of material, pulls together a minimal, supportive cast (Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crow), and then lets Cash do his interpretive best with a voice deepening and fading with age. Cash was never a virtuoso, so his few, limited notes actually improve with the extra creak in their breath. Besides, it's great fun to hear Cash take U2's "One" and remove its arena-rock bluster, or to scale back Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" until the death-row prisoner comes face to face with the moment of truth. Will Oldham's "I See A Darkness" is given a touch of true old-school Appalachia, while Neil Diamond's title track loses its sizzle until only the barest of bravado is left.