American IV: The Man Comes Around
Like all great prophets, Johnny Cash opens his fourth album on the American Recordings label with an apocalyptic vision and closes it with a promise of resurrection. In between are stories of love, death and hope; traditional fare from St. Johnny the Revelator. His version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” deftly avoids smarminess, and the presence of Fiona Apple’s backup vocals turn the familiar (and often overdone) song into an understated meditation on loyalty. He explores murder from a couple of angles: Sting’s “I Hung My Head” portrays a remorseful killer, and a new version of the traditional “Sam Hall” has an unrepentant thug shouting “Damn your eyes!” as he heads to the gallows. At times, Cash’s gravelly voice is almost overwhelmed by the arrangements—most noticeably on Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”—but, for the most part, he retains all the rough and honest charm that is his trademark.