Johnny Cash

American V: A Hundred Highways

When Johnny Cash’s American V was initially announced, I greeted the news with a mixture of dread and anticipation. 2002’s American IV seemed to be the perfect bookend to Cash’s career. Would the new album be the first in a series of increasingly tepid posthumous releases, like those of so many other late musicians? Still, any Cash has gotta be good, right? Right. American V: A Hundred Highways stands equal to any of Cash’s other releases. After losing his beloved wife, Cash threw himself into his work, recording every moment he could. The resulting album is easily the most somber of Cash’s efforts—the specter of death looms over every track, either his own (“Like the 309”) or June’s (“On the Evening Train”). Even the album’s most raucous track, the stomping “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” can’t escape Cash’s reflections on mortality. While his voice may rasp at times, Cash’s faith and conviction never wavers, and that’s more than enough. Fittingly, the disc closes with a cover of “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now”—perhaps a bit disingenuously, as longtime Cash producer Rick Rubin has already announced plans for an American VI.