While Sony is in the midst of a year-long celebration of Johnny Cash's 70th birthday -- which arrives today (Feb. 26) -- the country music icon is hard at work on his fourth collaboration with produce

While Sony is in the midst of a year-long celebration of Johnny Cash's 70th birthday -- which arrives today (Feb. 26) -- the country music icon is hard at work on his fourth collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, which bears the working title "American Four." Cash tells Billboard Bulletin that the set is due this summer on Rubin's American imprint.

Among the covers Cash is working on and/or is considering for the album -- which he says will be released this summer -- are John Lennon's "Imagine," the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and "In My Life," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt."

"When I first heard the song, I thought 'that's something I might have written in the '60s,' ya know, if I had been that good a writer," Cash says of "Hurt," which, like such previous covers as Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" and Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," was selected by Rubin.

"I've felt really good these last few months, better than I've felt in the last three years," he reports. Cash has diabetic neuropathy and is prone to pneumonia; since 1997, he has suffered frequent bouts, some that nearly killed him. He no longer tours, and he avoids the flu season in Tennessee by spending the winter at a second home in Jamaica.

Cash is planning a quiet birthday celebration today at home with friends. He recently sang in public for the first time in years, performing "The Ballad of Annie Palmer" at a banquet in Jamaica for the Horatio Alger Awards Committee. "It felt really good," Cash said, adding that he'd like to perform more "on some limited basis" if his health continues to improve.

"I think -- I hope and pray -- that all the pneumonia is behind me," Cash said. "It almost devastated me. Now I'm mending, and gaining strength every day and feeling good."

Cash also recently recorded "For You," a duet with Dave Matthews for the Sony soundtrack to the Vietnam War movie "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson.

As previously reported, Sony's Legacy label will reissue five Cash sets on March 19, including "Orange Blossom Special" and "Ride This Train." Later in the year, Legacy will reissue several additional albums and possibly even a previously unreleased Cash live set.

Sony Nashville is also eyeing a May release date for a tribute to Cash produced by country star Marty Stuart, Cash's former guitarist and son-in-law. Tentatively titled "Kindred Spirits," the set will include Cash covers by Bruce Springsteen, Travis Tritt, Bob Dylan, and Sheryl Crow, among others.


-- Wes Orshoski, N.Y. & AP



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