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Sounds like … Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and other icons from the old guard of country musicAt a glance … Cash's most subdued American album to date, A Hundred Highways is rife with stark reflections on faith, love, and the Man in Black's own impending mortalityTrack Listing Help Me God's Gonna Cut You Down Like the 309 If You Could Read My Mind Further on Up the Road On the Evening Train I Came to Believe Love's Been Good to Me A Legend in My Time Rose of My Heart Four Strong Winds I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now
Since his death in 2003, Johnny Cash is receiving more publicity than he ever did in life, as labels continue to release posthumous recorded memoirs. From single-disc anthologies and hymn collections to box sets and unreleased archival material, the country legend has become a "Cash" cow of sorts. And the tributes aren't about to stop any time soon.
American V: A Hundred Highways is the latest post-mortem set, but its motives are a little purer than other more marketing-driven predecessors. The fifth installment in the artist's American series with producer Rick Rubin, American V is comprised of songs Cash actually wanted to see the light of day—mostly covers, plus a couple of originals (a sixth album is reportedly still in the works). And as is customary of Rubin, he keeps a minimalist, hands-off, mostly acoustic approach with the majority of Cash's selections, making sure instrumentation doesn't get in the way of the singer's aging drawl.
Intentional or not on Rubin's part, V feels daunting. Recorded at intervals between his last studio album, the death of his wife June Carter, multiple hospital visits, and his own passing in September of 2003, V is not an easy listen, made all the more grave by its content. Though Cash's latter-day output was never buoyant, V is less characteristically so. Independent of the subject matter—his faith in God, the love of his wife, his looming departure—and the burdensome sense of helplessness, it's a snapshot of a soul aching for a greater glory than the one he tasted here on earth.
Still, he doesn't sulk in moroseness, as evidenced in his last-ever composition, "Like the 309," a humorous sketch of the demise he knew awaited him at the next station. Johnny Cash was well aware of where his train was bound—a sense of direction that became sharper and sharper as his time drew near.