Johnny Cash American V: A Hundred Highways

Johnny Cash American V: A Hundred Highways
There was a chilling effect to Johnny Cash’s last two Rick Rubin-produced albums in the American series, but the final one is damn near tear inducing. American III: Solitary Man was the first record Cash released after disclosing a mysterious affliction (later diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease) that left him shaky on stages and sidelined the hard-touring hero. It was shocking to hear Cash’s famous booming baritone reduced to a quavering voice finally ravaged by age and illness. A Hundred Highways is marked by even more sadness, as Cash struggled with the loss of his great love June Carter and the realisation that he was making the last record of his life. Aside from an inspired crack at Bruce Springsteen’s "Further On (Up the Road),” Rubin and Cash don’t attempt any rock adaptations here. Instead, they stick to folk and country songs that Cash was so inspired by. There are truly haunting ballads like Larry Gatlin’s holy plea "Help Me,” Hank Williams’s "On the Evening Train,” and the heart-wrenching "Rose of My Heart.” The stomp of Odetta’s "God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a perfect Rubin production, sounding as evil and mean as its retributive message. The Cancon is intriguing, with Cash emotively reading Gordon Lightfoot’s "If You Could Read My Mind” and strongly steering his way through Ian Tyson’s "Four Strong Winds.” The final song that Cash wrote is "Like the 309,” a shuffling farewell that finds Cash confronting his own frail mortality with good humour and a train shuffle. It’s a hint of the rebel in Cash that lingered on, as he completed the work that kept him living as a legend in his time. Certainly the most poignant, A Hundred Highways also stands as one of the finest records in the Cash/Rubin canon. (American)