Way back in the stone age that was 1994, people had to borrow cds from each other if they wanted to sample new music. If something really struck you then you’d grab a cassette and make a copy. Taping off the radio was just too annoying and none of the deeper cuts ever got played. It all seems weird to me now but that was the world we lived in. CD exchanges were the precursor to Napster, Limewire and bit torrents. The only problem was you’d run the risk of a never getting your CD back. Sure there was a code of honor with these deals but if the other person fell hard for your album they’d use classic snail tactics to keep the cd in their possession a bit longer. I did this with U2’s Zooropa. I know I know it sound’s crazy. I’m not one to give U2 too much credit around these parts but if not for them I’d never have learned of Johnny Cash. You see back then when U2 was sucking on a completely different level then they are now (ex: Numb, Lemon, their PopMart tour) they closed out their Zooropa album with a synth bass driven song about a man’s search for God in the post-apocalyptic future that shook me to my core. In place of of Bono’s preachy falsetto there was a vocalist with a death welcoming bass baritone who kind of scared me. I’d never heard anything like it. Thanks to that one guest spot on The Wanderer I held on to that CD and never asked for my copy of Urge Overkill’s Saturation back.
Shortly after Zooropa Cash was dropped by his record label and was reborn under the guiding hand of super producer Rick Rubin. Together they released the American Recordings series – a series of cover albums (peppered with some original Cash tracks – stand out “”When the Man Comes Around“) that would vault him into the mainstream and establish a whole new generation of followers who would eventually refer to him as “That guy from that Joaquin Phoenix movie.”
Looking to reclaim his legacy seven years after his death the “Man in Black” has pulled a 2Pac and released his second posthumous album. This collection of covers doesn’t have the star wattage of previous American Recordings…but it doesn’t need it. Recorded on his death bed, Cash managed to squeeze all sorts of otherworldly vibes out of the selected offerings. He even manages to make Sheryl Crow sound down right biblical. The tone of the album is very “un-man in black,” and is a nice contrast to the lasting image everyone has of him– the painful death soaked cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. Compared to that track, this album is downright joyful. Speaking of “Hurt,” many a person will tell you that it is the best cover track from the American Recordings. I disagree. As a lover of both lists and covers, I give you the top 5 Johnny Cash covers to have appeared on the American Recordings.
Click to play.
Highlights: “Redemption Day,” “Ain’t No Grave,” “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound,” “Cool Water”