REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (with DVD, 2003)

For Lara, and Rob.
CASH FRONT

JOHNNY CASH – American IV:  The Man Comes Around (2003 American)

I have published over 300 reviews here at mikeladano.com (use the search button on the top right to look up anything you want).  Yet, I still hadn’t got around to Johnny Cash!  That’s strange, because Johnny Cash is very special to me.

Everybody “says” they love Johnny Cash.  Many of them jumped on board when he died and became “cool” again.  Take Dandy, for example, a trend chaser who inked Johnny’s face on his arm a few months after he died.  But hey, if you’re on board now, that’s cool.  There’s plenty of room for everyone.

Johnny Cash was my first concert.  In Canada in the early 1980’s, Johnny had an endorsement deal with Canada Trust, where my dad worked.  Their brand new ATM machines were called Johnny Cash machines, and my dad even had some promotional Johnny Cash bills, a cool marketing gimmick.  He went to see Johnny, his idol, when Johnny came to town.  The first night of a two-nighter, my dad met him.  On the second night, he brought me along (I didn’t get to meet him).  Johnny modified his original concert opening by saying, “I’m Johnny Cash, 24 hour money machine” (in reference to the ATMs).  I still remember June kicking off her shoes!

The Man Comes Around is my favourite of the American Recordings, helmed by Rick Rubin.  It was also the last one released in Johnny’s lifetime.  It is, all at once, extremely powerful, morose, joyful, and catchy.  All filtered through Johnny’s unmistakable baritone, worn and weary but no less strong and expressive.  Like other American albums, it is a mixture of originals and covers, oldies and more recent fare.

The most well-known song on American IV was “Hurt”, the Nine Inch Nails cover.  It is remarkable by being so different, yet true to the spirit of the original.  I prefer Johnny’s take on it to Trent’s, truthfully.  “Hurt” is only one of many remarkable covers on this album.  Johnny and Fiona Apple tend “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, with quiet mellotron in the background.

My favourite song is Sting’s “I Hung My Head”.  I couldn’t believe the credits when I read that (having skipped Sting’s Mercury Falling album).  I thought for certain this had to be a new Cash original.  Lyrically, I was convinced this tragic tale came from the mind of the Man in Black, but I was wrong.  It’s a spellbinding song, painting a clear picture, and Johnny’s delivery is perfect.

“In My Life” is the favourite of Mrs. LeBrain.  She’s a huge Beatles fan.  We selected this song for the signing of the register at our wedding.  I received kudos on the musical selection from Tom Morwood and Jen’s Uncle Rick, who loved the Johnny.  While very different from the Beatles version, I think I can safely say I like both equally.

I’m not too keen on the Depeche Mode cover (“Personal Jesus”), but I don’t like Depeche Mode much.  I know some who think the cover is brilliant, so we’ll go with that.  Johnny and Rubin tranform the song into a dark acoustic stomp.

Other highlights include the classic “Sam Hall”, which Johnny also performed on his 1965 album, Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West.  I love Johnny’s energetic delivery on this traditional.  We enjoyed this one at the record store, a lot.  “Danny Boy” is another from 1965 (Orange Blossom Special) that Johnny takes a second crack at.  This time it’s a more intimate affair without the backing vocals.  Johnny compensates with his rich storyteller’s voice, each flaw telling a story of its own.

Elsewhere, I love “Desperado”.  And that’s interesting because like the Dude, I hate the fuckin’ Eagles.

The album closes with “We’ll Meet Again”, the Vera Lynn classic.  I always think of Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove) when I hear this song.  So for me, I can hear a sly wink in “We’ll Meet Again”, a hint of humour, as if Johnny knew this would be the last song on the last album released in his lifetime.

HURTBut it’s not really the last song.  On my wishlist is the vinyl edition, which had two bonus tracks: Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron” (another personal favourite) and an exclusive version of “Wichita Lineman”.

My copy of the album came with a bonus DVD.  Nothing to get excited about, it’s just the music video for “Hurt”.  Granted that’s a great video, but the DVD is less special in 2013 than it was in 2003.  Now, everybody Youtubes.

Wow, I just used “Youtube” as a verb.

Anyway.  5/5 stars!

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21 comments

  1. Mike,

    I love Johnny Cash and I love this post! Your first concert being the “Man in Black” is something beyond comprehension to me as my first show was Barry Manilow![the opposite side of cool] Johnny Cash is that rare vintage of musician that could cut through any genre and any culture just by being himself.

    Wayne

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    1. Thanks Wayne! I have a lot of Johnny in the collection, though not the kind of rarities that I usually talk about with my rock stuff. So in short I will definitely be talking about Johnny again.

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  2. Great review of a fantastic album. As a lifelong Cash fan it was a pleasure to watch him become “cool” again after years in the musical wilderness. That first American Recordings album, with just Johnny & his guitar, is still my favorite in this series, but they’re all worthwhile. Sadly, I never got to see Johnny in concert, so consider yourself fortunate (which I know you do).

    As for hating The Eagles, I never really understood that stance. Henley & Frey don’t come across as the nicest people, but I don’t have to work with them so their personalities never stopped me from enjoying their music. Sure, other artists did the country-rock thing better and with more conviction, but The Eagles never set out to be just a country-rock band. I understand that the “overplayed” nature of their music probably gets on people’s nerves, but they wrote & recorded some pretty amazing songs, and Henley has one of the best voices of all time. Anyway, this is a Johnny Cash review, so I’ll move on. Excellent work as usual, Mike.

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    1. Hey Rich! I don’t actually hate the Eagles. I don’t own any, but I couldn’t resist a Lebowski quote!

      I want to discuss some of the cool Cash box sets I own. American and otherwise. Stay tuned!

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  3. Hey, I’ve always been a Johnny Cash fan, well before he died. Actually since I was 8 and heard the song “A Boy Named Sue” (my all time fave Cash classic. Everything you say here about the man in black is spot on!

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  4. Man, I got so tired of all the people who swore they always loved Cash, after he died. Get real. Those of us who were there as kids, whose parents and grandparents had the old Johnny vinyls and played them for our 4, 5-year-old ears, we grew up on that stuff. You’re right, there’s room for everyone. I just tire of the posers when it’s been a lifetime of listening for me.

    That is awesome you saw him for your first show. I’m writing up a story about mine, so won’t share it here, but suffice it to say it is sufficiently 80s and embarassing. What can I say, I was 10 in 1984… Anyway, all the cover tunes were fun, on those Rubin records. Nothing new for Johnny, doing other peoples’ stuff, but the song selections were good. You neglected, I believe, to mention his excellent run-through of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage. I liked that one quite a bit, as well.

    Nice Lebowski quote. But it is, as Rich pointed out, hard to hate on the Eagles completely. Funny, in my mind I always associate Blue Rodeo with the Eagles. Country, rock, great lyrics, a real VIBE. Hope that doesn’t wreck BR for you, now. ;)

    You can use Youtube as a verb. People do it all the time with Google. But whatever you do, do NOT use ‘like’ as an adjective. Please, for the sake of humanity and our collective sanity, just don’t.

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    1. So much content to respond to here!

      1. I never saw Blue Rodeo and the Eagles in the same vein, but I kinda do now. I get it. I’m sure if I had some Eagles they would get some play here. Their hits are overplayed on the radio though.

      2. Can’t wait to read about your first concert.

      3. Rusty Cage is on another album, I think Unchained?

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  5. I remember that concert very well. I have been to three of his concerts, so obviously I am a real fan. He put on a great show as he told lots of stories and he was very personable. I am blown away by the fact that people now think of Johnny as cool. Cool!!!

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  6. My first exposure to Johnny Cash was not as a musician but as an actor on an episode of ‘Columbo’. He naturally played a country star, who is a murder and of course Columbo knabs him in the end, perhaps his character ended up in Folsam Prison. It was not til 1990’s when I was in my early 20’s that I discovered Johnny Cash. That is because of ‘American Recordings’, which got huge critical acclaim and MTV sort of supported him. Before that I just thought of him as some country musician from days gone by. I definitely got him when he became cool again thanks to the hipsters and grateful they championed his music or I may have never bothered to listen.

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