by Johnny Cash

reviewed by Dr. Mellow in 1996

Of course Johnny Cash's newest album, Unchained, falls short of my expectiations. Following American Recordings is a huge undertaking and any followup was destined to be a letdown. When compared to American Recordings, Unchained pales.

Don't get me wrong -- Unchained is a good album. With styles ranging from rock to honky-tonk, from prayerful to rebelious, Johnny showcases the many facets of his unique voice and talent. Joining him in the studio is Tom Petty with backup provided by the Heartbreakers.

Although there appears to be no unifying theme tying this album's songs together as a whole, the album works for me. Because there is no real theme, I've decided to go through the album song by song, with some final commentary following.


A mellow song, harking on a lost love. This song has a spiritual feel to it. There's a line in it that always gets me whenever I listen to it:

She dug a hole in the bottom of my soul
She is all and everything else is small
Sea of Heartbreak

I listen to this song, and I think of Dylan. I can't help it. Tom Petty pipes in with backup vocals. Although it's about lost love again, it's a pretty fun song

Rusty Cage

This is the Soundgarden cover. For those of you who don't know (I didn't), Soundgarden is a popular band in the genre of alternative music. My brother listens to that kind of music and has reported hearing this single played on alternative radio stations. It's an OK song -- kinda edgy. It rambles on, though.

The One Rose

This is a smooth song, with Johnny doing more singing than the normal "sing-talking" style he uses. It's a waltz -- a plus in my book, and also sounds more traditional than most of the other songs on the album.

Country Boy

Classic Cash. Fast-paced rockabilly. Nothing more to say.

Memories Are Made of This

This one could have easily been left off of the album. It's kinda "blah."


This song starts out as a pleading cry from a man who has done wrong all his life and ends up as a triumphant statement from the same man realizing he's got time to attempt to make ammends. The arpeggiated guitar provides a haunting background for the entire song. When it starts, this song is just a kinda "blah" song, but by the end, you're really drawn into it. I don't know why. I like this one a lot.

Kneeling Drunkard's Plea

This is an almost festive song about a drunk. Tom Petty's backup provides an appropriate "twang" to this song that really works. It's a fun song.

Southern Accents
There's a southern accent where I come from
The young-uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb.
I've got my own way of talking, but everything is done
with a southern accent where I come from.

This song simply describes a simple lifestlye that is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Hard working, simple, honest, good, religious. The song is distinctly unapologetic. And deservedly so. Quite possibly, this is my favorite cut from the album.

We have our own way of living, and everything is done
with a southern accent where I come from.
Mean Eyed Cat

OK, if I'm just out for a fun song, this is my favorite cut from the album. It's straight honkey-tonk and has all the elements: a woman leaving her man, a train, overally, tobacco spittin', poverty, and truckers. Instead of a dog, though, it's the mean eyed cat.

Meet Me in Heaven

This song is almost a lulaby. Johnny spotlights the deep baritone voice for which he is famous.

I Never Picked Cotton

This song is kinda the other side of the coin of "Southern Accents."


This is a spiritual, confessing prayer set to music:

Oh, I am week.
Oh, I know I am vain.
Take this weight from me,
let my spirit be
I've Been Everywhere

This is another fun, truckin', hitchhikin', upbeat, honky-tonkin', ramblin' song. It's a great ender for the album.

When I heard that Johnny was going to release a new album, I was hoping for a theme album: gospel songs recorded during the sessions for "American Recordings." Perhaps there's still hope that such an album will be produced. Instead, we are treated to "Unchained." I'll keep it near the top of my CD collection -- but I'm sure before too long I'll retire it in favor of "American Recordings" again.

With a busy tour schedule still ahead of him, Johnny Cash shows no signs of slowing down soon. This fact brings hope to me -- both hope to see him in concert again soon and hope that plans for a new album are already in the works.

Rating: 8.2 out of 10

Other Reviews

Of course, other folks have opinions about Unchained. Here's a sample:

From: Bill Donahue (donahue@sunherald.infi.net)

Subject: unchained (WWW generated email)

I am the biggest jc fan , been so since 11 yrs old,met him many times,have everything he's ever recorded since it was new and am very, very disappointed in his latest release. the material and especially the backup just doesn't work and is reminiscent of the overly produced recordings of his in the '80's. after the last c.d. it's quite a let down.

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