🎵 American Recordings (Johnny Cash)

Listened American IV: The Man Comes Around Turns 20 by Tom BreihanTom Breihan from stereogum.com

The American recordings are a slightly misleading legacy. Johnny Cash wasn’t the mythic poet of darkness that those Rick Rubin records made him out to be — or, rather, he wasn’t just that. Cash was an entertainer. He could be funny and pious and corny. For decades, Cash thrived within the Nashville studio system; he was never an outsider artist. But those American records, American IV in particular, tapped into something powerful and primal about Johnny Cash’s voice and presence. They gave him a different kind of life. And that dark-specter version of Cash might be the one that people remember best today. Maybe that’s not fair to Johnny Cash, but Johnny Cash doesn’t care. He’s dead, and his legacy was secure long before American IV. In some of his last months on earth, Cash gave the world a profound meditation on loss and mortality, and even if the album only captures one side of Cash, that one side is heavier than heaven.

There are some covers which are about the original artists, while other covers make the song anew. Cash’s American Recordings provide a new take on tracks like Mercy Seat, Rusty Cage, Personal Jesus and Hurt. I also love how Rick Ruben focused on creating the right conditions for Cash.

On the other side of such covers is how the original artists appreciated the covers. I find Trent Reznor’s response pretty funny:

When Reznor first heard Cash’s version, he still wasn’t sure what to think: “It felt like I was watching my girlfriend fuck somebody else.” (Trent Reznor isn’t always articulate.) But when Reznor saw Mark Romanek’s video for Cash’s “Hurt,” he immediately understood that “Hurt” now belonged to someone else.

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