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30 Best Loved Albums - American Recordings

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. Here's number 4 on the list:

4. Johnny Cash - American Recordings (1994)

This one was easy. As someone who has written a 2800 word essay Click Here for Essay on the meaning of the American Recording albums, I had to put American Recordings on my list. Since my dad listened to Johnny Cash, his music has always been a part of my musical life. We had the Live at San Quentinalbum and I would listen to that album over and over. As a smart ass teenager, my friends and I would goof on the fact that Johnny played San Quentin two times in a row and how much it would suck if a band like Kiss would play a song like Beth two times in a row at a concert.

By the time American Recordings came out, Johnny’s career was pretty much tapped out. Of course he could’ve always just played the casino circuit, singing his hits and Cashing in on the nostalgia; but a bearded rap producer would have none of that and convinced Johnny to just play songs in his living room, accompanied by nothing but his own acoustic guitar. The result was not only stunning but resurrected Johnny’s career and brought a whole new legion of fans to his music.

On the surface, American Recordings was surprising more for its sparseness and “folky? tenor than for its subject matter. Johnny Cash stripped down to the bare necessities: that clear, deep voice and an acoustic guitar. Peeking underneath that surface, however, brought about another image – that of a man acknowledging his own mortality; worried about sins both past and present with the understanding that those sins have called into question his standing in the afterlife. Songs like Delia’s Gone, The Beast in Me, 13, and Down There by the Train tell the tale of a man who has grievously sinned. Cash is not proud of these sins – he doesn’t boast or shrug them off. Instead there is the sad recognition that sin is the price man pays for its humanity.

American Recordings kicked of a certain format that we would see throughout the American Recordings sessions. A few originals, a couple of old standards, and a couple of covers that Johnny makes his own. The latter in American Recordings is a cover of the Danzig song 13. In the end the album is about sin and redemption. Johnny is telling us that we are all sinners but that there is a way out, we can seek redemption. Cash ends the album with The Man Who Wouldn’t Cry, a song that addresses the need for humility as it describes a hard-scrabbled man who lives a life of unsentimentalized failures and only finally through his tears is able to enter into heaven and gain all he lost on earth. Johnny would mine these fields even deeper in his next American Recordings Albums.

One can listen to American Recordings and dwell on the themes of sin and redemption or one can just listen to Johnny sing a bunch of old time songs in a way that only Johnny Cash could do. It’s why these albums are so popular and why, when Johnny Cash dies nearly 10 years later, hipsters and old folks alike lament his passing and his preacher-like image graces the cover of Time Magazine.

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the List (!?!?)


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