Johnny Cash - American III: Solitary Man
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb.14, 2001
By Tony BonyataOn country legend Johnny Cash's latest release, American III: Solitary Man, his third consecutive studio album under the production wing of studio wizard Rick Rubin, he has used a similar formula to his two previous albums - American Recordings and Unchained . With all the unnecessary trappings of modern country music swept to the side, the songs on American III, like it's two predeceasors, make for a raw, uncluttered acoustic collection of beautifully stirring tales. On American III Cash sings of love, murder and spiritual redemption - three subjects that have defined the Man in Black's dark mystique throughout his career.
Filled with cover songs from unlikely artists such as U2, Nick Cave, Neil Diamond and Tom Petty, Cash effortlessly turns a good number of these into his own. On Diamond's "Solitary Man," Cash delivers the strongest version of this song with his stoic voice and piercing acoustic fingerwork. On his cover of "The Mercy Seat," he takes Cave's dark tale of an innocent prisoner facing the electric chair and makes it seem that it could have only been penned by Cash, while his parched take on U2's "One" works, if only for the fact that it could be covered by anyone and still hold up as one of the strongest pop songs ever. The only unfortunate homage to his unlikely musical offspring is on a lifeless version of Petty's "I Won't Back Down," which is also the opening track of the album - giving a misleading weak first impression.
Thankfully, though, this minor error is erased when Cash turns in rich versions of the country classics "Mary of the Wild Moor," "Wayfaring Stranger" both featuring Sheryl Crow on accordion, and a fragile, bittersweet take on "That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)," a song that won him a talent contest in his youth. Pulling out an old vaudevillian show tune, he strips away the grease paint and stage props with just a sparse acoustic guitar on "Nobody."
The latter half of the album is filled with self-penned numbers such as the hopeful "Field of Diamonds," featuring the shining harmonies of Crow and June Carter Cash, and the poignant "Before My Time." "My hands don't earn me too much gold, for security when I grow old, but we're all the same under the grass. And God's got a place for country trash...I'll be doing alright for country trash," he sings tongue-in-cheek, as he pokes fun at his own Tennessee roots on "Country Trash."
He may have a bit of 'trash' running through his veins, but make no mistake that the music that Johnny Cash has been producing in his latter years, is nothing but pure country treasure.
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