Thursday, April 15, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around,’ Johnny Cash (2002)

That this is arguably Cash’s worst of the six proper American albums demonstrates just how wonderful this latter-day career renaissance truly was. Yes, "American IV" features some of the weakest songs of the catalog, but it also offers some of the best.

It’s impossible to start anywhere but with “Hurt,” the masterful Nine Inch Nails cover that exposed Cash to an entirely new generation; it is a triumph of interpretation and execution. “Personal Jesus” is another particular favorite, with that fantastic acoustic bass line drawing you into Cash’s still-imposing voice, while “Tear Stained Letter,” “Sam Hall,” and the title track demonstrate Cash could still rock and roll with you. He also offers majestic takes on The Beatles’ “In My Life,” Sting’s “I Hung My Head,” and his own “Give My Love to Rose.”

There’s a difference between stately and downright immobile, though, and too many tracks on “American IV” fall into the latter category. Cash’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” has always seemed an odd choice to me, and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” barely has a pulse. Later, the three-track run of “Danny Boy”/“Desperado”/“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is one of the worst stretches of any American album.

Cash manages a recovery, closing the last album of his life with the uplifting “We’ll Meet Again.” Yet nothing can mask the fact “American IV” is the most uneven of his final records.

Grade: B-

Favorite Track: “Personal Jesus”

Least Favorite Track: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

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