Monday, April 12, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘American Recordings,’ Johnny Cash (1994)

To commemorate the release of Johnny Cash’s final album, “American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” earlier this year, CD of the Day will highlight the entire American series over the next week or so.

I know this is commonly regarded as Cash’s best album of his American sessions with producer Rick Rubin, but you’ll just have to forgive me if I don’t agree. That’s not to say “American Recordings” isn’t an excellent listen, I just prefer Cash backed by the likes of the Heartbreakers than flying solo.

I have to be in the right mood for “American Recordings”—it’s stark, deliberate, and dark. Like Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” it’s not the type of album to pop in any ol’ time, unless I'm in a somber mood and happen to be driving through the blackness of a moonless night.

The lack of accompaniment puts the focus squarely on Cash’s unmistakable voice, which at this point in his life could still fill a bottomless pit. There’s no wavering or frailty here as would follow on latter American releases; he’s all power and might. His guitar work is just as good, eschewing his trademark train-wheel cachunk for more traditional folk chords. Forced to choose, Glenn Danzig-penned “Thirteen” is my favorite track, but almost all of the choices are made of the same solid stuff.

“American Recordings” is like a heavy, dramatic film—I acknowledge its brilliance, but that doesn’t mean I want to go through it over and over again. Though it is certainly one of the most consistent efforts in Cash’s American series, I nevertheless listen to it less than all the others.

Grade: B

Favorite Track: “Thirteen”

Least Favorite Track: “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry”

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