"American Recordings"

by Johnny Cash

revied by Dr. Mellow in 1994

[American Recordings]

"American Recordings" is the latest offering from the legendary Johnny Cash. It is also probably his best. In each of the 13 songs on the album, the only instruments to appear are Cash's guitar and voice. This is an aspect that helps to provide a feeling of intimacy that is a common thread throughout the album.

Songs like "Delia's Gone" showcase Cash's unique mastery of lyric writing. A twist on an old traditional country song, this song details the brutal murdering of a woman -- delivered in a first-person account. Cash's voice as he sings about shooting Delia is the kind of voice a person would use when describing his breakfast. The whimsical tone matched with the serious nature of the lyrics is truly frightening.

Then, in "The Beast In Me," the listener is drawn into the inner workings of Cash's soul. This song, written by his ex-son-in-law Nick Lowe, is the perfect description of Cash. A simple, unobtrusive guitar cadence provides the backdrop for deep, meaningful lyrics. When his voice wavers over some of the lines in this song, the listener can feel that Cash sees himself in this song. ("The beast in me/Has had to learn to live with pain.")

Wavering between the themes of sin and redemption, all of the songs are perfectly suited for Cash. He wrote a song ("Drive On") as a tribute to our Vietnam veterans. Even the song written by rock artist Glen Danzing ("Thirteen") is a perfect Johnny Cash song about a man who is just no good ("I was born in the soul of misery./Never had me a name./They just gave me the number when I was young."). Songs such as "Down There By The Train" and "Redemption" touch on religious aspects that are common in many of Cash's recordings. The last cut on the album, "The Man Who Couldn't Cry," is a somewhat comical song which touches on almost every cliche found in country music.

In all, "American Recordings" is probably the best album I have ever heard. I listen to it at least once a day -- usually two or three times. It is well produced, the songs are well written, and Johnny Cash is in perfect form. Not bad for a 63 year old man in the middle of his third carrer in the music business.

Rating: 10 out of 10

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Last update: May 21, 2004

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