Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around
(American Recording / Lost highway)
4 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Mar. 22, 2003
Review by Tony BonyataThere aren't many artists who could take a small handful of original compositions and mix them together with songs from Nine Inch Nails, The Eagles, Depeche Mode, Simon & Garfunkel, Hank Williams and The Beatles and make it all flow together so effortlessly. But then again there aren't many artists like Johnny Cash.
On Cash's fourth album with producer Rick Rubin, entitled American IV: The Man Comes Around, the stripped down and honest production and performances from the previous three Cash / Rubin efforts are still present, as are many of the same themes of love, murder and redemption that have been present throughout his astounding five decade career. But what may set this even further apart from its predecessors is how Cash takes so many radically different musical styles and corrals them all peacefully together, turning even industrial anthems such as Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," and Trent Reznor's tragic "Hurt" into modern-day American folks songs.
While the 71-year country legend seems to be preparing himself for his final days through songs such as "Give My Love To Rose" ("Tell my Rose to try and find another, 'cause it ain't right that she should live alone") and the bibically-inspired masterpiece title song ("Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singing. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin,' voices cryin.' Some are born and some are dyin.'") its almost poetic that, despite age and ailing health, Cash - with his deep, earthy baritone - sounds ever bit as potent as when he first sang "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" for Sun Records back in 1956.
Cash has secured the talents of artists almost as diverse as his choice of compositions, such as guitarist John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Randy Scruggs, Billy Preston, Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) and Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits, Beck). But instead of upstaging Their Boss in Black at any time, they instead add the perfect organic accompaniment to Cash's own rough-hewed style.
A couple of numbers also feature Cash dueting with two other intriguing vocalists. Fiona Apple adds a ray of hope to Johnny's downtrodden mood on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Trouble Water," while Nick Cave's deep croon pulls up a barstool next to Cash on a sparse version of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
With American IV Cash proves that he's not afraid to make some of the strongest, most poignant music of his career - transcending both age and genre - as he awaits the time when the "man" comes around for him.
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