It’s been almost three years since Johnny Cash passed away, but while Walk the Line was great (OK, maybe just good, with great performances) we’ve been sorely lacking the genuine article in the interim. You could blame that on super-producer Rick Rubin, but hey, the guy had a harder time dealing with Cash’s death than most probably did. After all, he’d become Cash’s muse of sorts (aside from June) during the last decade or so of his friend’s life. The fact that he sat on Cash’s final recordings this long doesn’t seem so much a tragedy then, but rather plain ol’ respect. Still, thank the gods his mourning period is over, because American V: A Hundred Highways is just about as perfect a send-off as an artist could ask for. (Let’s pray Rubin doesn’t release Cash’s VI, as he’s hinted he might.)
While none of the songs surprise like Cash’s 2002 cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” and only two of the songs here were even written by Cash, what we do get are 12 songs that serve both as summation and conclusion to Cash’s long career. Nowhere is that more evident than on Bruce Springsteen’s “Further On (Up the Road)” — or Cash’s “Like the 309,” the last song Cash wrote and recorded before his death. “It should be a while before I see Doctor Death,” he sings, “So it would sure be nice if I could get my breath/Well, I’m not the cryin’ nor the whinin’ kind/’Til I hear the whistle of the 309.” There’s not a lick of this album that doesn’t sound aware of impending death, inescapable death, welcome death — especially considering the pained way Cash sings of his devotion to his wife June through covers of Hugh Moffatt’s “Rose of My Heart” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Here’s hoping he found her again ...
- Cole Haddon