At the end of his life Johnny Cash recorded a multi-album project. Listening to this album it’s unmistakable that we’re listening to a man at the end of his life. His voice is in tatters but for some of these songs it’s actually quite effective. The songs were a very divergent group that crossed over popular styles that spanned generations. There’s everything from modern songs like Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” to old standards like “Danny Boy” and “We’ll Meet Again.” And he included pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s like the Beatles’ “In My Life,” the Eagles’ “Desperado” and Simon and Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He also includes several country western standards like “Sam Hall” and “Streets of Laredo.” But the highlight of the album is the title song “The Man Comes Around.” It’s a dark vision of the Judgement Day. Cash claims that some of the lines came to him in a strange dream. I listen to this song when I’m feeling particularly pessimistic about the future.
Not all the songs work for me. And I’ll guess that not everyone will agree with my picks but here they are:
- The Man Comes Around
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
- Streets of Laredo
- Sam Hall
For older die-hard fans of Cash this will be a bitter-sweet experience because of the circumstances of this music. But I think the title song is a very stirring song that’s worth a listen by country music fans.
Strictly speaking this isn’t purely a country music album. Johnny Cash does covers of popular music from from sources varying from modern musicians like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode to Simon and Garfunkle to the Beatles. But Johnny Cash is a country singer and I liked some of the songs very much so…
I’m not an enormous Johnny Cash fan. I have several of his albums and like a number of his songs but I don’t love everything he’s done. This album was done in the last year of his life and his voice is frayed by his age and illness. But it is distinctively Johnny Cash and he is able to use the broken quality of his voice to great advantage on several of the more soulful songs. It is an interesting experience hearing a man who knows he’s dying singing songs that he has selected to sing before he’s gone.
The first cut and the subtitle for the album is “The Man Comes Around.” It’s a song Cash wrote and it’s about Judgement Day. Revelations is quoted at the beginning and end of the song and I find it extremely stirring. I’d say it’s the high point of the album.
I’ll confess I don’t particularly care for his interpretation of most of the recent songs he covered. “Hurt,” “Personal Jesus” and “First Time Ever I saw Your Face.” None of these renditions particularly appealed to me. Possibly because the songs themselves don’t particularly appeal to me. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “In My Life” were better but neither was extraordinary.
I enjoyed much more his take on the western songs, “I Hung My Head,” ”Sam Hall,” “Desperado,” and especially “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Streets Of Laredo.”
And the last song on the album is very interesting. It’s “We’ll Meet Again.” Older folks may remember it was a 1939 song and a 1943 movie linked to war-time Britain and the longing that the soldiers and loved ones left behind felt for each other. Johnny Cash is clearly talking about the afterlife and meeting up with loved ones (especially his departed wife). That song is quite effective.
I guess I would recommend this album to Johnny Cash fans and for fans of country and western music. And I think the song “When the Man Comes Around,” will resonate with anyone on the right, living in these apocalyptic times.