Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Hundred Highways

I was very excited to hear about the release of Johnny Cash's American V: A Hundred Highways. However, as with any posthumous release, the same ethical question arises. I desperately wanted resolution to this series, but American IV would have been enough. I was worried that any other releases would just be unreleased demos slapped together. Thankfully, from what I've read about American V, Johnny fully intended to have this released as is. I'm glad it did get released, as it is amazing.

American V is a remarkable ending for a career. Throughout, it's as if that's what it was recorded specifically for. His last written song, "Like the 309," sounds almost like a self-eulogy, albeit a lighthearted eulogy. His version of Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" is a gorgeous summation of what he will remember, while Don Gibson's "A Legend in My Time" shows what he will not regret. "Help Me" sounds like a self-prayer, while he finds room to damn those he doesn't pity in the booming "God's Gonna Cut You Down." Thankfully no songs are out of place like his versions of "Rusty Cage" or "Personal Jesus." It is simply about the man.

I'm very happy that this found the light of day and it is done with respect and thoughtfullness. No integrety is lost. It is a beautiful testament to the voice of the last half-century, literally in the voice. It should be noted that in Rick Rubin's liner notes he mentions hearing the differences in Johnny's voice on good and bad days. However, the voice of a man holding on to life and struggling to breathe can still boom out beyond any music accompanyment. That was there to the end, and will always have impact.

From what I've read, there are plans for an American VI. If done with the same tact as this release, it will be great. However, for this series and this career to conclude here seems appropriate.