For Lara, and Rob.
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.
But 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!