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I know that many people revere Johnny Cash but this album is largely pretty poor. Released mere months before his death in 2002 the album largely made up of cover versions with a smattering of his own songs. I should qualify my opening judgment by stating that this is the only Johnny Cash album that I own and that I am largely unaware of all but his most famous work such as 'Ring of Fire'. Because of this the album might not get quite the benefit of doubt that an album by a band that I own a number of records by might receive. On the other hand it allows me to judge the album purely on the music.
The albums starts with 'The Man comes around' and is the first of 3 songs written by Cash on the album and is one of the highlights. The song is book ended with some spoken word and the lyrics contain a stream of biblical quotes and similar themes. I'm unaware of the context of the lines within the bible but I imagine it's probably apocalyptical. The music is largely an up tempo guitar track with a piano backing and the song is a great opening for the album.
Second track 'Hurt' is the reason that I bought this record and is possibly the most famous song on the album. This is mostly due to the fact that it was released as the last single before his death. The original of the song was by Nine Inch Nails and the unexpected nature of the cover is also very interesting. The NIN version is quite a difficult listen with random bits of feedback etc but the Johnny Cash version is an acoustic track backed up with a piano and the lyrics compliment the frail vocal magnificently. Also, check out the video if you haven't seen it as this further adds to the almost epitaph like qualities of the song. The undoubted highlight of the album.
Unfortunately the album generally turns for the worse from here on. 'Give my Love to Rose' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' basically sound like your Grandad crooning.
'I Hung My Head' is a great song and is a cover of the original Sting version. The lyrics tell of a man who kills a man while practising his rifle aim after pressing the trigger by mistake. It goes onto explain the regret that the man feels etc. The melody is completely different and far superior to the original. This is the 2nd best song on the album.
'The First Time I ever Saw Your Face' is just painful to listen to and 'Personal Jesus' is a pale imitation of the Depeche Mode original. The Beatles 'In my Life' is then ruined although the following track 'Sam Hall' is a good track. This is about a murderer who is being hanged for his crimes and his belief that everyone else is as guilty as him because they're committing murder too.
The next three songs merge into one for me with nothing making me want to listen. Again they just sound like songs slowed down pointlessly.
'Tear Stained Letter' is a good up tempo track and is one of the stronger tracks on the album before the next 2 songs again are again boring and painful.
The final track 'Big Iron' gives a strong ending to the album. The lyrics essentially are a poem and the melody is great. It's about an old Western outlaw and how he has killed so many men and possible captors before finally getting killed himself.
Of the 16 tracks on this album I'd say 6 are very good with the rest being pretty poor. The 6 songs are in fairness good enough to make the album avoid a worse mark. As a supposedly legendary artist it's perhaps a shame that the other 10 songs mean that I'm unlikely to ever investigate the rest of his back catalogue.
*This review is my own work although I may post it elsewhere on the internet.
American IV: The Man Comes Around is the fourth album in the American series by Johnny Cash, and sadly the last album he released before he died in 2003. In listening to this album after his death, I feel these songs become even more poignant to the listener, particularly the title track, "The Man comes Around". Although the majority of the songs on this album are covers, this is one that Cash wrote himself and is about God and death; the lyrics:
"There's a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around"
take a more sombre tone knowing that Cash died only months after the recording of this album. It sets the mood of the album for the songs to come, and shows Cash's rather matter of fact attitude to God and the Bible with the sparse arrangement of just Cash and his guitar, with tinges of a lonely piano throughout.
The next song is "Hurt", a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song. As with all the covers on this album, Cash with the help of Rick Rubin has arranged the songs to a simple, sparse acoustic sound. This creates a feeling of being alone with just Cash and his guitar, making the songs very raw and touching. No better example of this is "Hurt", with Cash changing the song from a heavy emo/electronic sound to a cut down acoustic version that is heartbreaking in its relevancy to Cash's life. Cash's voice is nearly failing as he delivers:
"I wear this crown of thorns,
upon my liar's chair.
Full of broken thoughts,
I cannot repair.
Beneath the stains of time,
the feelings disappear.
You are someone else.
I am still right here"
The raw emotion that he emits with these lyrics are tear-jerking, and the make this song one of the best he has ever done.
The third song is a Cash original, which has made appearances on a few of his previous albums. "Give My Love to Rose" is a sad tale of a man who is found dying, who pleads to the man who finds him to pass on a message to his family, and in particular to tell his beloved wife Rose that he loves her. It is a heart wrenching but entertaining story that is perfectly suited to Cash's solemn style of vocal delivery.
After three songs rather dark in their lyrical tone, we get a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water", which when placed after these songs nearly sounds light-hearted. Although Cash has a refreshingly different take on the song with his gravelly voice, Fiona Apple who comes in on the second verse isn't on great form and I don't think the two contrasting voices work well together. By no means of the imagination is it a bad song, but maybe not the best of choices for a Cash/Fiona Apple duet.
"I Hung my Head", sounds like the Man in Black wrote it himself and I was surprised to find it was originally sung by Sting. Cash's mournful voice is again perfect for recalling the story of a man who accidentally murders someone and is eventually sentenced to death. A perfect choice of song for another solemn but deeply intriguing tale of death.
"The first time I ever saw your face" was a folk song released in 1957, and despite it's romantic lyrics it is nearly haunting when sung by Cash. For the album's high standards it is below par, although lyrically it is a nice change from death.
Interestingly for the next song, "Personal Jesus", Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante was recruited by Rick Rubin to provide an acoustic riff that gives the song a bluesy feel. Depeche Mode is a rather eclectic choice of band for Johnny Cash to cover, but this works brilliantly and Cash's voice is nearly joyous as he sings:
and you're all alone,
flesh and bone,
by the telephone,
lift up the receiver,
i'll make you a believer
i will deliver,
you know i'm a forgiver"
which sound like they could have been on one of Cash's albums in the sixties. An excellent song that differs from the direction of the earlier song in that it is very upbeat.
"In My Life" is a cover of the famous Beatles song, and Cash again is on top form here, giving the song and even more mournful theme. Again this a more joyous and upbeat song than you will have come to expect listening through the album but Cash's tragedy-filled voice is never far from bringing a tear to the eye, no matter what the song.
Sam Hall is an old American folk song from times of the civil war, but instead of giving it a slow, sad twist Cash surprises hear in giving it a light-hearted and humorous feel, in a similar vein to "A Boy Named Sue". Alone it's an average song but in the context of the album is well placed.
"Danny Boy" is an old Irish song, and this Johnny Cash cover sounds like he could be singing it in a Catholic Church, with just his voice and keyboards. It sounds a bit too much like mass for me and I don't think is voice suits the song, making this the worst song on the album.
However Cash returns to form in some style, with a stunning rendition of the Eagle's "Desperado". He is joined on vocals again by Fiona Apple, but this time they work brilliantly together to sing a beautiful song, with Apple's loving voice contrasting perfectly with Cash's manly vocal tone.
"I'm so Lonesome I could Cry" is a song Cash has covered before after Hank William's death, and this time he is reunited with Nick Cave with a return to the poignant style of the earlier songs on the album, and the harmony between the two is beautiful.
"Tear Stained Letter" is the last of the three Cash originals on the album. The piano is pleasant and this song is one of the more lively ones on the album and as a plus its nice to hear One of his originals from nearly 50 years ago.
The penultimate song on the album, "Streets of Laredo" is an old ballad which is beautifully sung by Cash, with violins to tug the heartstrings that come out in the chorus. The last song on the album is "We'll Meet Again", a song normally sung by a female vocalist and soldiers from second world war bidding goodbye to their partners before departing for battle. It has a jazzy piano but Cash sounds a bit out of place, and the song has a comic value to it in which Cash seems to be actually enjoying himself while singing. It's not the best song on the album but ends it on a nice note with a positive message: "We'll Meet Again. Considering the time frame between which this album was released and Cash died, it does however offer a poignant reminder of his failing state of health which would see him dead only a few months later.
While the Man comes Around has its faults, it is still a beautiful collection of songs sung by the Man in Black. It does focus on Death but, especially in the latter songs it nearly has an uplifting message; appreciate life while you have it. And that's a message with no faults.
This is almost an introspective by Johnny Cash, an album released very late in his career, close to his death, its almost as though he has chosen songs he feels appropriate and they really are. I have read other reviews on this site and I do accept that songs such as Bridge over troubled water, and we'll meet again don't need improving upon, but these are simply cover versions in the sense that Cash is reinterpreting them and I think he does an amazing job because when he sings he brings everty word to the fore and gives real meaning to them, i've never found We'll meet again so moving, this is an incredibly good album and Rick Rubin keeps production to a minimum ensuring that this is pure Johnny Cash with a guitar.
When the Man Comes Around - A great start to the album, Johnny and a guitar, he croons his waty through a song that begins talking about death, to me this is a song about the grim reaper visiting, he being 'the man' of the title, the song is simple, country music with an edge it is superb, I love the chorus, love the lyrics, love the tone, I might be overzealous here, but this really is a great song.
Hurt - A reworking of a song by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, this was originally a very heavy trash metal track, the reworking is perfect for Cash with his history, its about drugs taking away the pain of living and it is a dark, morbid classic, the gentle rhythm and melody crashes against incredibly angry introspective lyrics, this song is amazing and is one of my favourite songs, the lyrics are amazing in this context with this gentle delivery every word is brutal.
Give My Love to Rose - A nice country and western classic, this reminds me of my granddad a telling of a tale, a lovely rolling melody and the emotion of Cash' lyrics I think this is superb it is the perfect antidote to the annihilation of the previous song, as ever it has a sad ending as nearly every song on this album does but its an incredible love song of a man's devotion to his wife and child.
Bridge Over Troubled Water - This is obviously an all time classic anyway, but I do feel like this is a genuinely good reworking, Cash' slow drawl of a delivery is touching, it is a beautiful song that does benefit from the slowed down pace of the song, Cash brings a sadness to the song in essence making it uplifting as much as beautiful. The voice is great, I don't think the support lyrics add anything and some of the backing music is a bit weak but overall Cash, his guitar and this song work.
I hung my Head - This has a nice loping beat to it, again it has a real story behind it and reminds me of the country and western songs I heard as a kid, this is again a tale of tragedy when Cash accidentally shoots a man, I love the way the song develops, the melody is gentle and a perfect contrast, this sounds like the last confessions of an old man remembering his childhood.
First Time Ever I saw your face - To some people this doesn't work but for me the inadequacies in Cash's voice give this a vulnerability that some greater voices can't, it falters and makes me think it is real rather than sheened over, every word is dwelt upon giving it more resonance. Cash sounds to be caught up in this song utterly, the Hammond organ and acoustic guitar support him gently but purposefully. A great tune given a fresh feel.
Personal Jesus - Reworking Depeche Mode is tough at the best of times, the piano and guitar are cranked up a bit, this doesn't work as well as some of the tunes but they lyrics fit the mood of the album and Cash throws himself into the tune fully.
In My Life - It's true that this song can't be improved, but when you have a dying legend singing this tune it has a sense of truth to it, the experiences in Cash's voice give this so much emotion in so little effort, I think this is better than the beatles version simply because I believe it more and I adore the beatles. This is a devastatingly beautiful love song and I think the words are utterly captivating, Cash makes this song his own. The use of a little triangle and gentle guitar strokes make this a lovely dreamy little song.
Sam Hall - Another Country and Western tune it starts brilliantly and you are kept enthralled through the tune, another song about murdering somebody, by this point you get the feeling this ain't an uplifting album!! This is the song of a man at the gallows ready to be hanged, cursing the world, Cash portrays the fella perfectly.
Danny Boy - Lovely organ introduction, this lacks the grace of many versions but it has a grit and integrity to it that many other versions can't get near. Its never shouted, its low toned, croaky and absolutely stunning, some people say it can't be remade but this is not another Irish balladeer or choir this is a man who has lived a full life singing about a man who has lived a full life.
Desperado - A classic country and western tune, this is scaled down and allows Cash to get below the surface and really bring the lyrics out, as sometimes the tune is overtaken by people crooning or shouting, a great song given a gentle new lease of life.
I' m so lonesome I could cry - Heartbreaking tune, his voice is stunning, it sounds to me as though Nick Cave joins him on this tune and both growl their way through the song, the contrast of the voices is perfect, the lingering on words works, the emphasis on each sentence is wonderful. The chorus is perfect, the melodic guitar contrasts wonderfully from the voices and makes this a gentle bittersweet song of some proportion.
Tear Stained Letter- Starts off very country and westernish, another letter of love being lost and sadness, the song has an upbeat tune and a seventies piano riff running through it but it has a real nasty taste to it with Cash making the woman he's writing to feel awful about something she's done to him, you feel like he really has been through this and can feel the bitterness of a man who has been spurned.
Streets of Laredo - Gentle tune, the voice is made harsher than ever, it has a majestic boom to it, this is one of the weakest on the album it sounds like an old fashioned tune and while its fine I don't get much from it although I understand why its on the album, I think Cash chose it to signify a moment in his life as he has done on every other song on the album.
We'll meet again - A perfect reworking, the guitar is light and bouncy, Cash puts more positiveness into this song than the rest of the album, it is his farewell song and it is gorgeous, it has a life lived within it, at points he sounds mean, at other he sounds very old, he sounds happy to be saying goodbye and content, the song works so well, you can imagine it for once without the context of world war 2. A fantastic finish to the album.
Big Iron - A country and western tune about an outsider in town a man who comes to change things, again this is symbolic and is a tune you would associate with a mean outlaw of a singer like Johnny Cash, a great song, gentle but with real punch.
I love this album, some people have said its just an album of covers, its true but I think Cash chose songs that had personal meaning, charting his problems with women, drugs and religion, each has a context and meaning, the album has a flow to it and each song is based around Cash and a guitar and all songs work on their own. The production is simple and allows us to enjoy Cash's voice to the full.
This is one of my favourite albums, its enjoyable songs, a distinctive voice with age, maturity and character and simple tunes with great melody. The songs generally aren't uplifting but then if you read about Cash he wasn't that type of guy, the tunes all have a beauty to them and some are utterly beautiful in their space and tone. There is talk of death of cheating and of loneliness, all is done with brutal honesty and a voice that intones that he knows his own end is soon to come, that makes this album even more powerful.
The album is available on download pretty much everywhere and is available on cd for £4.98 at Amazon.
I'm a huge fan of Johnny Cash, so my negative review of this album which currently seems to be highly acclaimed by dooyooers is not out of spite or dislike for the artist.
The Man Comes Around: American IV is an album produced by Rick Rubin, who in my opinion Johnny Cash needed to get shot of. The America series had more and more covers until they released this which was the most cover happy lot of them. The first two tracks are crackers and set the style of the album - which is filled with largely depressing ballads as if Cash himself knows his death is imminent.
None of these songs are as suited to Cash's singing as much as his own work and there isn't a single track on the album which has the joyfulness, the lyrical humour nor the witty delivery of his earlier work. On top of this, some of the tracks are virtually impossible to improve upon and don't really need to be covered (I mean - Danny Boy? Bridge Over Troubled Water? I'm So Lonesome I could Cry? We'll Meet Again ? In My Life?). What is going on?
I've never been a fan of cover happy albums but this really comes across as your favourite old bloke let loose at the karaoke and my is the choice of songs on the miserable side! Unfortunately apart from giving these songs his own unique spin (vocally) there's little input from Johnny Cash and I think that's a great shame. Whilst some tracks suit the dark and emotional delivery, it simply doesn't work for others.
I can't emphasise how disappointing, I find this album which really is quite naff when compared to albums like I Walk The Line, Bitter Tears, Man in Black, One Piece At A Time and even when compared to albums with a lot of covers on like Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. There are a few Cash penned songs towards the end and these are as good as ever but are on several other albums. I suspect this album is largely bought by people who only know one or two of his songs, don't own any of his classic work and bought it through the hype surrounding it.
1 The Man Comes Around (4:26
2 Hurt (3:38)
3 Give My Love To Rose (3:28)
4 Bridge Over Troubled Water (3:5
5 I Hung My Head (3:53)
6 First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (3:52)
7 Personal Jesus (3:20)
8 In My Life (2:57
9 Sam Hall (2:40)
10 Danny Boy (3:19)
11 Desperado (3:13)
12 I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (3:03)
13 Tear Stained Letter (3:41)
14 Streets Of Laredo (3:33)
15 We'll Meet Again (2:58)
If you purchase only one Johnny Cash CD... let it be this one.
I grew up on Johnny Cash, my mum's favourite singer, unfortunately, like all teens, I turned my back on my mum's style of music and embraced bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Sting, etc...
And then, a few years ago, I heard the song HURT on the radio. I was touched, my heart ached from all the sadness and desperation that poured from that song, and that sensation was one I hadn't felt in many, many years. I'll admit, I purchased the CD for that song alone... shame on me once again for underestimating Mr. Cash's enormous talent.
I had forgotten just how powerful a presence Johnny Cash was, how extraordinary his voice was... he is truly legendary.
This CD is loaded choc-a-bloc with Cash's greatest ballads, from the heart-wrenching HURT to the comedic PERSONAL JESUS. This CD will make you smile, but it will also make you sad because many of the songs touch a cord of desperation and futility, a sense of there being no hope, but that's not a bad thing - it's a good thing - like the words in the song HURT; "I hurt myself today, to see if I could feel." This compilation of songs does just that, they make you smile, they make you sad, they make you FEEL.
Every single song bears the mark of Johnny Cash, regardless that numerous others over the years have sung those same songs - BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS - DANNY BOY - I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY ... to name but a few. However, the true Cash is seen, felt and heard in HURT and WE'LL MEET AGAIN.
This CD also contains the video to HURT, and is a touching trip down memory lane.
Mr. Cash is no longer here to entertain us, but his music will live on forever...
Might be the #1 music act of all time. A wonderful collection of covers done the "Cash" way. Every song done as well or better than the original artist. Cash's rugged voice only got better with age and the experience of life. Personal Jesus and Hurt are instant classics given an entirely new outlook from this perspective than the originals. Johnny Cash is a true America legend and only and to his aura with this wonderfully done album that show good music has no boundries or genres. If you have never heard a Cash album before start with this and work your way back. You will love it even if you have never heard any of the classic music that made the man in black a true icon not only in music but in life. This is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man in the later years of his incredible life. A man that will be VERY missed.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Man comes around
3 Give my love to Rose
4 Bridge over troubled water
5 I Hung my head
6 First time ever I saw your face
7 Personal Jesus
8 In my life
9 Sam Hall
10 Danny boy
12 I'm so lonesome I could cry
13 Tear stained letter
14 Streets of Laredo
15 We'll meet again