Johnny Cash always wore his heart on his sleeve, flaws and all. His songs of love, misery and anger were effortlessly honest and seemed deeply personal each time, although he couldâ€šÃ„Ã´ve sung the phonebook and wouldâ€šÃ„Ã´ve found nuances that are heartbreaking. The appealing American V: A Hundred Highways his last CD, is no exception. This bittersweet farewell, producer Rick Rubinâ€šÃ„Ã´s labor of love recorded months before Cash passed away in 2003, is heavy on soulful, intimate ballads with inevitable depth and meaning. It feels good to hear Cashâ€šÃ„Ã´s voice, like visiting an old friend who has a hundred life-stories that he tells with great affection and humility. The orchestrations are simple; itâ€šÃ„Ã´s mostly just Cash and his guitar. His distinctive voice, frail and world-weary, embraces his mortality with the primarily southern-influenced spirituals â€šÃ„ÃºGodâ€šÃ„Ã´s Gonna Cut You Downâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºI Came To Believe.â€šÃ„Ã¹ The opener, â€šÃ„ÃºHelp Me,â€šÃ„Ã¹ is an older southern hymn that sets the tone, asking, â€šÃ„ÃºOh Lordâ€šÃ„Â¶with a humble heart on bended knee/Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m begging you please for help.â€šÃ„Ã¹
With moving ballads like â€šÃ„ÃºLoveâ€šÃ„Ã´s Been Good To Meâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºRose of My Heart,â€šÃ„Ã¹ itâ€šÃ„Ã´s impossible not to think of his beloved late wife, June. He sings in â€šÃ„ÃºOn The Evening Train,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºItâ€šÃ„Ã´s hard to know sheâ€šÃ„Ã´s gone forever/theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re carrying her home on the evening train.â€šÃ„Ã¹ In contrast, Cashâ€šÃ„Ã´s last original recording, the lively â€šÃ„ÃºLike The 309,â€šÃ„Ã¹ is refreshing, showing the cockiness of his younger days: â€šÃ„ÃºHey sweet baby/kiss me hard/draw my bathwater/sweep my yard.â€šÃ„Ã¹
American V: A Hundred Highways is a more-than-fitting goodbye befitting the cherished singer-songwriter. Consistent with his music, it portrays Cash as very human and at peace with his future. It may make it easier for the listener to let him go, but donâ€šÃ„Ã´t expect to listen without a twinge of sadness and longing.