American V: A Hundred Highways
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In my review for American IV I said I'd pay to hear Cash read the phonebook. I am a huge Cash fan, both of his music and who he was as a person. But I was a little scared when I saw that a poshtumous record was coming out. Rarely are those great albums, though Elliot Smiths From a Basement on the hill was a great album. I feared a clunkly collection of outtakes to exploit an American icon. Instead this is the most focused and realized of Cash's 5 albums on American. There is a sort of urgency that has replaced the sentimentality of the previous album, Johnny needs to sing these songs and you can hear it in his voice that sounds great, even as it sometimes catches, in one case emotionally. There are no pop standards, or questionable covers, or duets. This is just Cash alone, with some very nice minimalistic accompaniment. All of the songs are about mortality, but focus more on lessons learned in life than on death. In many ways this is Cash's third autobiography, as he transforms these songs into personal stories, from On the Evening Train about June's death, to I Came to Believe, his story of conversion, to Rose of my Heart, which could be about his daughter as much as June. The only recognizable cover is Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read my Mind, however, Cash somehow manages to transform it so much that I almost didn't recognize the lyrics. And the traditional God's Gonna Cut you Down, still shows that he was full of surprises to the end.