Masterpiece: American Recordings

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[Today: Ron Lim and Johnny Cash rearrange my outlook on music...]

I’m here to testifyAmerican Recordings changed my life. That’s a bold proclamation, and it’s not one I make lightly. There are a handful of albums that have changed my life as profoundly as this one – Electric Ladyland, Abbey Road, Raising Hell, Kind Of Blue – but it’s a pretty exclusive club that doesn’t figure to grow much larger.

Johnny Cash was my grandfather’s favorite musician – consequently my mom couldn’t stand his music, and it was never played around the house while I was growing up. Which means that The Man In Black was a blank slate for me when Ron Lim leaned across the aisle at work and offered a listen to his copy of American Recordings. I’d read some favorable reviews, and was intrigued by the fact that Cash had chosen to work with hip-hop/metal producer Rick Rubin. It was fall of 1994, I’d just moved to San Francisco 6 months before, and my head was fairly spinning with the wonders of the city. I was open to new experiences, and what previously would have been sunk by association with “country music” was suddenly worth a shot.

The stark simplicity of Rubin’s production – just Cash, a guitar, and a mic – was brilliant, and it miraculously restored Cash to his rightful place as one of the most powerful singers in music. American Recordings contains a variety of material. Cash re-imagines two songs he’d recorded in the 60’s, including a haunting ‘Delia’s Gone’ that blows the doors off his original. It had a few well-chosen covers, including Nick Lowe’s ‘The Beast In Me’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’. And he nailed a couple of songs written specifically for him – Glenn Danzig’s ‘Thirteen’ and Tom Waits’ ‘Down There By The Train’. Cash was alternately a killer, a cowboy, a drunk, a preacher, a wife-beater, a comedian. Throughout the album he used his granite voice to make each song his own – a spellbinding performance that earned him a new generation of fans.

But as good as American Recordings is – and it’s very good – it’s important for me because it vaporized the musical barriers that had previously guided my listening habits. Genres suddenly seemed much less important, and from there it was a short hop to Fela Kuti, The Peddlers, Bach, The Anthology Of American Folk Music, Nuggets, Hank Williams, John Fahey, The Stooges, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I might not have considered if American Recordings hadn’t rocked my mind.

Thank you Mr. Cash.

*****

Listen: Delia’s Gone

Listen: Drive On

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9 Responses to “Masterpiece: American Recordings”

  1. World B. Furr Says:

    But have you been laughed at by a whore?

  2. dkpresents Says:

    No, but my Broadway show was a flop.

  3. esbandido Says:

    The one you put on at the Hungry Eye?

  4. devil dick Says:

    powerful record no doubt. I remember when it came out i used to visit this one record store vintage vinyl on rt 35 where these cool folks worked i actually later formed a band with them at one point, and i remember them saying “have you got the new johnny cash yet?” and i was like. uh’ no…. I think Reg grabbed it off the rack and threw it in my pile and was like you NEED to buy this. and so i did and man was i happy i did…. i musta spun that sucker 1,000 times… and yeah, this was NOT my grandfathers johnny cash, this was all MINE… dig?

  5. devil dick Says:

    oh yeah, and watch this video….

  6. Jo in LA Says:

    Two opportunities to rant about my love of Johnny Cash! The fact that he was a “has-been” to the country music industry always baffles me. If he hadn’t done all the American stuff, we’d have missed out on 10 more years of the man in black. If you don’t have Cash: Unearthed, you should. He did tons of recording for each album with American and this box set includes a lot of those previously unreleased tunes. There’s still more and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another posthumous release from Rick Rubin.

  7. dkpresents Says:

    I’ve read that Rubin is holding two albums worth of new material. One album will definitely see release in the near future (American VI) and the other depends on what The Man In Black tells Rubin from beyond the grave…

  8. The Man in Foo Says:

    who knew Grandpa was so cool? The real question I want to know is who would win in a bar fight: Cash or Grandpa?

  9. dkpresents Says:

    I’ve decided that this would be a draw: Grandpa would be in awe because he was about to fight Johnny Cash, and JC would be in awe because Grandpa worked for the railroad for 35 years.

    They’d end up drinking a bunch of beers together. Might be doing so right now, as a matter of fact…

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