“The success of our first album together shocked him as he had lost faith in himself as a viable recording artist,” says producer Rick Rubin, reflecting on the catalytic impact of Johnny Cash’s 1994 comeback album, American Recordings. Indeed, after three years without a label, Cash returned with an album that was raw, heartfelt and which confirmed that his ability both as an interpreter and composer remained undimmed. It also marked the first in a series of records overseen by Rubin which would provide one of America’s greatest artists with a fitting final bow.
As we mark the 10th anniversary of The Man In Black’s death in this month’s issue of MOJO, we've been listening back to Cash’s American catalogue which, as well as the acoustic 1994 set, includes American II: Unchained (1996), American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) and the posthumous pair, American V: A Hundred Highways (2006) and American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010).
Despite Cash’s prolific output during the last decade of his life, no official 'Best Of' from that period exists other than the fifth disc on 2003’s Unearthed box set. As a result, we’ve compiled this playlist of our favourite tunes from Cash’s six official American albums. The music is presented sequentially from American Recordings through to Ain’t No Grave.
As per the original albums themselves, this selection spans a vast range of music featuring cover versions (including his defining take on Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt), originals (Like The 309, the final tune he wrote) and acknowledged classics (see Hank Williams’ 1949 heartbreaking ballad, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry).
Got your own Best Of American Recordings? Post it below for the listening pleasure of fellow Johnny Cash fans.