Recorded in the short few months between the death of his wife June Carter and his own, Johnny Cash's voice on this album is raspy, hushed, and breathy. It also bears such weighty presence that it is near impossible to ignore. The fifth in the series of albums produced by the eclectic Rick Rubin, and the first Cash studio album to be released posthumously, American V: A Hundred Highways is so far removed from the Man In Black's work in the fifties and sixties that the listeners who jumped onto the ‘Walk The Line' bandwagon won't know what to think. The brash confidence of his best-known albums from San Quentin and Folsom Prison are nowhere to be seen, replaced by the mournful voice of an old, repentant widower waiting to die.


Gone also is something that used to be a feature of the Rick Rubin produced Cash albums, the incongruent cover versions. Soundgarden's ‘Rusty Cage' and Nine Inch Nails' ‘Hurt' were completely reworked on previous albums without sounding gimmicky, and it is somewhat disappointing that no really unusual and seemingly ill-fitting songs were chosen for this record. Fortunately the material on A Hundred Highways is strong enough without them that their absence does not bring down the album.


The inclusion of ‘If You Could Read My Mind' may seem a little strange to the listener more familiar to the electro-pop version of the late nineties, as opposed to Gordon Lightfoot's original, but Cash's gentle baritone backed by Rubin's subtle guitar arrangement give the song its dignity back.


The wrathful spiritual ‘God's Gonna Cut You Down' is a standout, as is Cash's sorrowful reading of Hank Williams' ‘On The Evening Train'. The track with perhaps the most resonance is ‘Further Up The Road', a number written by Bruce Springsteen, but sung with such gravity that it seems impossible to believe that Cash didn't write it. Indeed, despite its powerful autobiographical undercurrent, only two of the songs were penned by Cash. His talents, especially in his last decade, lay best in choosing the songs that suited how he felt, and making them his own. The tracks on this album are ones of love, loss and faith, and with them, Cash has made his final masterpiece.

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