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Johnny Cash | American III - Solitary Man (American Recordings)
Having recently come back from the brink of death, as all true legends should at least once in their careers, Johnny Cash releases the third in his series of collaborations with Rick Rubin's American label, a collection of fourteen songs, stripped down and bare, that is arguably his best album in a long and distinguished career. It is impossible not to read the lead off track, Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down, as a statement of intent. Cash sings this and the title track with an eye towards his own myth, filling the songs with his deep warehouse voice, taking them down to their bare bones. It's becoming ever clearer just what a good interpreter of songs Cash is, hell, he even does the impossible and makes U2's One sound like a decent song. Death, naturally, haunts these songs. The album revolves around the two centerpieces, Will Oldham's I See a Darkness and Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat. The former is tackled with a sense of gravity and dignity and makes you wish for a whole album of Oldham covers. In the latter, Cash takes on the role of the about-to-be-executed murder with a cold, detached relish. His voice is so dispassionate that it gives you the creeps as the cascading choruses ease off into an unsettling instrumental coda. The second half of the album leans towards more traditional material but maintains the focus and immediacy of the early songs, ending with a moving rendition of the old folk chestnut, Wayfaring Stranger. His delivery on this track is incredible, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This is a man who knows he's living on borrowed time. Luckily for us, Johnny Cash has decided to use it to record the best material of his career.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001