We should just be grateful that Cash is still around to make records as uplifting and...
Nick Reynolds 2002-11-20
How does Johnny Cash do it? Take a hoary old chestnut like ''Bridge Over Troubled Water'': You've heard it so many times you're not just sick of it but are completely numb to any impact it might have. But yet here comes Mr Cash with that familiar wobbly, rough as torn sandpaper voice and yes, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, and you're on the verge of tears, such is the emotional power he can still generate.
Solitary Man the previous album in the American Recordings sequence he's made with legendary producer Rick Rubin was simply a flawless classic. This one is more relaxed but less coherent. It sounds like it was a lot of fun to make, although the selection of songs seems almost wilfully eclectic. Cash's voice is probably too frayed now to do justice to ''The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face''. And the versions of country classics like ''Give My Love To Rose'' don't really add anything new.
But when he has a story to tell he can animate any material, old or new. Nine Inch Nails' ''Hurt'' is recast as an all too human tale of addiction and disgust. ''Danny Boy'' of all things, is fantastic, just Cash and a church organ - he sings his heart out. The duet with Nick Cave on ''I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'' is great, with Cave revealing he's not a bad singer when he doesn't ham it up. ''Desperado'' with Don Henley on backing vocals, is relaxed and soulful. ''Sam Hall'' where Cash laughs and rages at the dying of the light, will put a big, wide grin on your face.
Most remarkable of all is the title track. Inspired by a dream about our dear Queen and the Book of Revelations, it puts you right there inside the Bible. It's scary, but also curiously uplifting.
Only his Creator knows how he does it. We should just be grateful that Cash is still around to make records as uplifting and entertaining as this.