It was a completely unexpected move. In 1994, country music legend Johnny Cash agrees to cut an album produced by rap producer Rick Rubin for Rubin's American Recordings label. The result: The first of four priceless recordings that rival anything else from Cash's outstanding body of work.
The collection includes old songs, new songs, songs written by Cash, and songs written by others. Cash's music has always been marked by great storytelling and honesty, but this recording takes the Man in Black's storytelling and honesty to a whole other level. When you listen to "The Beast in Me," you hear the raw honesty in Cash's voice and you know that he's lived every word of Nick Lowe's lyrics. "Drive On" addresses one of Cash's most passionate topics: the trails and tribulations of Vietnam veterans returning home and the people who don't understand them. "Thirteen" is a dark, brutally exposed portrayal of a life gone wrong, one that has never been on track and never will be. Who else but Cash can convincingly sing the lyric "I pray you don't look at me/I pray I don't look back"?
It took a lot of courage for Cash to do this album. Think about it: Columbia Records had dropped him years before. Now here he was, making a recording not with his band, but with only his voice and his guitar. With one man and one guitar, there's not much you can hide. If the music is true and honest, it'll come through. If it's not, that'll come through too. But the result is true, naked, honest, courageous music. It doesn't get any better than this. Johnny Cash lays it all on the line like no one else ever has...and probably never will.
DISC TIME: 41:52