"Like the 309," the last song written by Johnny Cash before his death, will be included on "American V: A Hundred Highways." Due July 4 via American Recordings/Lost Highway, the album was recorded wit
"Like the 309," the last song written by Johnny Cash before his death, will be included on "American V: A Hundred Highways." Due July 4 via American Recordings/Lost Highway, the album was recorded with producer Rick Rubin in the months leading up to Cash's September 2003 passing.
"These songs are Johnny's final statement," Rubin says. "They are the truest reflection of the music that was central to his life at the time. This is the music that Johnny wanted us to hear."
A song utilizing one of Cash's favorite subjects, trains, "Like the 309" is one of two original songs on the disc. The other, "I Came to Believe," was written and recorded earlier in his career about addiction and salvation through a higher power.
The balance of the set includes such songs as Bruce Springsteen's "Further On (Up the Road)," Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind," Hank Williams' "On the Evening Train," Rod McKuen's "Love's Been Good To Me" and the traditional spiritual "God's Gonna Cut You Down."
"I think that 'American V' may be my favorite of all of the albums in the American series," Rubin says. "It's different from the others, it has a much different character. I think that this is as strong an album as Johnny ever made."
Beginning with 1994's "American Recordings," the series of stripped down recordings brought Cash to a new audience and sparked interest in the country legend's career. The four albums have sold 2.6 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "American IV: The Man Comes Around" has been the best received, with more than 1.5 million copies sold. The 2002 disc, which featured a popular cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," peaked at No. 22 on The Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart after Cash's death.
Cash began work on "American V" the day after completing "American IV," according to Rubin, using the process to help him navigate the period after his wife June Carter-Cash's May 2003 death.
"Johnny said that recording was his main reason for being alive," Rubin says. "And I think it was the only thing that kept him going, the only thing he had to look forward to."
With Cash's engineer David "Fergie" Ferguson, the songs were completed by a group of musicians who had worked on previous "American" recordings: Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, Tom Waits), along with guitarists Matt Sweeney (Guided By Voices, Chavez) and Jonny Polonsky.
"We felt Johnny's presence during the whole process through to the end," Rubin adds. "It felt like he was directing the proceedings, and I know that the musicians all felt that as well... More than once, Fergie and I would look at each other and say 'Johnny would love this,' because it was so good and so different from anything we'd done before, we knew he would be excited by what was happening."
As previously reported, a trove of sparse solo recordings Cash made in the 1970s will be released May 23 via Columbia/Legacy under the heading "Personal File."