Johnny Cash / American V: A Hundred Highways / CD Review
Since forming an alliance with producer Rick Rubin, Cash’s American series have stood up to the legacy of his past. The latest, American V: A Hundred Highways is no exception. The themes are the same: love, loss, God and death. What makes it different is the fact that Cash not only recognized his mortality but seems to have made peace with it. While at times, this disc can be hard to swallow because of the subject matter and his faltering voice, there is always the silver lining of his faith taking him to meet his wife again. The formula and result is the same, Cash takes songs from other writers and makes them his own.
The album begins with “Help Me,” an open letter to God in which he begs for help to get by. His voice sounds weak and genuine. The backing guitar work is simple and lets the plea stand on it’s own. On the last song that he wrote “Like The 309,” Cash stares down death and asks for you to load his box on the 309. He knows his death is right on the horizon and even demonstrates his lack of breath at one point. On Bruce Springsteen’s “Further On Up the Road,” Cash sings of meeting up with his wife June Carter Cash. The theme continues in “On The Evening Train” which details a man watching his wife’s casket being taken away. It’s clear that June’s death devastated and helped to shape his view on death. It also seems to have bolstered his faith and resolve.
The second half of the disc is more comforting with Cash’s own “I Came To Believe.” Originally, it delt with his addiction and overcoming it. Here, it sounds like him coming to terms with June’s death with the help of his higher power. “A Legend In My Time” has the first instance of his trademark sense of humor. His self depreciating comments demonstrates his abilities to look past the hype and to see himself clearly.”Rose of My Heart” is the final testament to Cash’s love of his wife. With a weak, shaky voice, it almost sounds like he wanted his last words spoken to be to the love of his life. Appropriately enough, the album ends with “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now.”
A Hundred Highways is one of the strongest albums in Cash’s career. While depressing, it’s also uplifting to know that his faith helped him to face death bravely. At last, Cash truly is free from the chain gang.