Volume 94, Issue 43

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2000


MC makes noise up North - Choclair still keeping it real

Mastermind goes Street Legal

Billy Elliot shows off fancy steps

Original man in black

Original man in black

Johnny Cash
American III: Solitary Man
American/Sony Music

Johnny Cash may not have aged gracefully by conventional standards, but by his own terms, he's aged with great dignity.

Beginning with 1996's American Recordings and 1998's Unchained, Cash has released a mix of covers, traditional songs and his own songs, old and new. These recordings are, for the most part, very sparse – just Cash and his guitar, strumming and singing on a couch by super producer, Rick Rubin.

American III: Solitary Man continues along these previously established lines. Rubin's production remains non-intrusive, leaving Cash to present the songs as if he was sitting in your living room. A mix of old friends and fellow songwriters support Cash on the new album, enriching its already full sound.

Throughout the American Recording series, Cash has chosen some surprising and intelligent covers. Opening the record with the solid, but uninspiring covers of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and the Neil Diamond-penned title track (with Petty's background vocals on both), Cash dives deeper into the well of song further into the record.

Later, Cash gives his signature treatment to U2's "One" and duets with Will Oldham on Oldham's "I See A Darkness," a pairing made in songwriter's heaven. The best track, though, remains Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat," which depicts the story of a man on death row, drawing parallels to Jesus Christ's own death by capital punishment.

Cash doesn't let the listener down with his own songwriting or his choices of more traditional material. The Cash-penned "I'm Leavin' Now", is a wonderful farewell tune, enhanced by the alternating vocals between Cash and Merle Haggard. Cash follows this track with his version of "Wayfaring Stranger", finishing off one fine collection of songs.

Solitary Man explores the theme of the wandering, ever-searching, independent man from a variety of perspectives. Cash has done and continues to do, what the characters in the songs do – go down his own path. He has refused to give in to the Nashville definition (or any one definition) of country music.

As Cash sings on one track: "I'm doing alright for country trash."

Indeed he is.

–Zach Peterson

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Copyright The Gazette 2000