Wednesday, October 27, 2010

364. American Recordings- A comeback for the man in black.

364. American Recordings. A comeback for the man in black.

Album: American Recordings
Artist: Johnny Cash
Year: 1994
Genre: Country


  1. Delia's Gone
  2. Let the Train Blow the Whistle
  3. The Beast in Me
  4. Drive On
  5. Why Me Lord
  6. Thirteen
  7. Oh, Bury Me Not (Introduction: A Cowboy's Prayer)
  8. Bird on a Wire
  9. Tennessee Stud
  10. Down There by the Train
  11. Redemption
  12. Like a Soldier
  13. The Man Who Couldn't Cry

I've often felt that producers can get in the way of great music. Artists come to recording sessions with demos of their songs recorded on simple instruments. If the artist can write a good song and perform it well then pretty much everything required to make it great is already there. But in order to justify their existence producers feel the need to add strings, and basoons and extra percussion, and sound effects and maybe a cowbell! Or a cow! What this song needs is a cow or two or even an entire herd! Sampled cows! Someone call up a farm I need 50 head of cattle in the studio by this afternoon!

Johnny Cash has often felt producers get in the way of his music and thankfully Rick Rubin does as well. In 1994 Rubin decided he wanted one of the greatest voices in music to record on his record label without any embellishments or fancy notions. Just Cash and his guitar and some great songs. The result is American Recordings which (thankfully) is only the first in a series of albums that Cash recorded before he died.

Johnny Cash is never going to rank as one of the greatest guitar players of all time but he definitely had one of the greatest voices on the planet. He doesn't possess a countryfied twang that grates the nerves of anyone who doesn't live in the tornado-prone parts of America, he's blessed with a deeply sonorous tone that sounds exactly like a mountain would sound like if you could get it in a recording studio. He's just a joy to listen to and his voice is so unique there aren't many things other than a lone guitar that could add anything to his music. All he really needs to make great records is a set of great songs. Which was where the producer comes in.

Rick Rubin decided style didn't matter, eras were irrelevant and genres didn't exist- the only important factor was whether the song was one that Cash could turn into a Johnny Cash song. Some of the tracks (Delia's Gone and Oh Bury Me not) were songs that Cash had already recorded decades before. Others were ones he wrote more recently. Some were covers and some were written especially for Cash to sing by contemporary songwriters. Tom Waits wrote Down there by the Train and Heavy Metal hero Glen Danzig wrote Thirteen. While on paper it looks like a hodge podge of standards, obscure covers, original material and eclectic bespoke material on the album it's a Johnny Cash album. The strength of his personality is enough to transform every track into his own song. And it makes for compelling listening.

I enjoyed American Recordings so much I hunted down the entire collection. There are six albums in the American Recordings set and every one is fantastic. If you're not a fan of Johnny Cash already then this will turn you into one. And while you're taking the time to appreciate the voice and the songs spare a thought for the producer who spent the sessions sitting up in the sound booth with his feet on the desk enjoying perfection rather than trying to screw it up.

Influenced by: Country music and vocal depth
Influenced: Generations to stop saying "I don't like any country music".

Highlight: The Beast in Me
Lowlight: The man who couldn't cry (but it's definitely not a very low lowlight)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This CD is even worse than his old stuff!
Picture an old man, who could never sing to begin with, producing a CD with only him and his guitar, singing some obscure murder, prison, woe on to me songs, and you get the idea.

So did this album have you screaming halleluja or shouting Why Me Lord? Let me know below


  1. I laughed at the first paragraph.

    Johnny Cash is pretty great -- even one as young as I can appreciate that. I would think, though, that because of all the accolades that his cover of "Hurt" received, that the album *that* was one would be on this list. Or is it?

    By the way, have you seen the Ray-styled Johnny Cash film? "Walk the Line"?

  2. "Hurt" appeared on "American IV: The Man Comes Around" which was released in 2002 which is probably a bit too late to get enough attention to get on this list. Most of the love for Cash's version of Hurt (which is well deserved by the way) seems to have come after his death and after this list was compiled.

    I never saw Walk the Line but it's something I'd be interested in checking out at some point. I have seen Walk hard: The Dewey Cox story which is a great send up of music from the last 50 years or so. I highly recommend it.

  3. Maybe the USA could use a little more cash these days. Johnny would do just the trick...again.