Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Aug. 18, 2006
American V: A Hundred Highways (American)
You never heard a sadder album than American V. Nearly three years after Johnny Cash's death, the American icon's final recordings are a difficult listen. Short of breath, with a voice jagged beyond its normal craggy self, Cash faces the hereafter with a stark gravity. The majority of this project was recorded just after the death of Cash's wife, June Carter, and just months before his own. Rick Rubin, who produced the rest of the American series, finished the backing tracks assisted by Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench along with guitarists Smokey Hormel, Randy Scruggs, and others and provides an atmosphere both stately and understated as the Man in Black connects with his maker, his life, and those that are gone. There are no modern rock songs in the mix; rather there's one last original train song, "Like the 309," and tempered covers of Bruce Springsteen's "Further on up the Road" and Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds." Ending with "I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now," a song Cash originally recorded in 1962, seems especially poignant given the lyric "I got rid of the shackles that bound me." After all that proceeds it, it's clear Johnny Cash finally found his way home.