Along with being treated to a slew of vault material and a pair of tribute records this year, Johnny Cash fans will be given yet another reason to smile Nov. 5, when the Man In Black’s fourth collaboration with producer Rick Rubin arrives via American Recordings/Island Def Jam. The 15-track “American IV: The Man Comes Around” features such guests as Nick Cave, Fiona Apple, and Don Henley, and sees Cash cover songs by such diverse artists as the Beatles, Depeche Mode, Hank Williams, Nine Inch Nails, the Eagles, Sting, and Simon & Garfunkel.
The title of the album takes it name from one of the set’s three Cash originals. “It’s a spiritual about Judgment Day,” Cash told Billboard in February, shortly before his 70th birthday. “The idea is there’s a man going around taking names, and he decides who to free and who to blame,” Cash said, offering these lines: “Everybody won’t be treated the same/There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down when the man comes around.”
Cash also reworks his classic 1957 Sun Records single “Give My Love to Rose” (which also appeared on his 1964 CBS album “I Walk the Line”), and his “Tear Stained Letter,” from his 1972 CBS set “A Thing Called Love.”
Henley joins Cash for a cover of his Eagles classic “Desperado,” while Cave and Apple add vocals to Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” respectively. One of the most peculiar selections is a reworking of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” of which Cash told Billboard, “When I first heard the song, I thought, ‘That’s something I might have written in the ’60s, if I had been that good a writer.'”
Also performing on the album are Billy Preston, Randy Scruggs, Marty Stuart, John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Beck), Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits, The Blasters), Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Beck), and Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers).
It’s unlikely that Cash will support the album with public performances. Whether or not he does so depends on his health, according to Lou Robin, his longtime manager. The singer/songwriter, who suffers from diabetic neuropathy — a disease of the nervous system that leaves its victims susceptible to pneumonia — has played in public only a handful of times since slipping into a diabetes-related coma in 1997. “It depends on how he’s feeling,” Robin says. “It’s not a matter of wanting to perform — he misses doing that.”
However, Robin notes that Cash is feeling so good at the moment that he’s already begun working on his next album at his rural Nashville home. “I would be satisfied, so far as accomplishments, if it all ended now,” Cash said in February. “But, boy, I sure wish I could live another few years and take it one, two, three years at a time, and do some more things like these records. That’s what I really wanna do — some more of these records.”
While still a consistent concert draw in the U.S. — and around the globe — the recording side of Cash’s career was boosted in 1994 when he began working with Rubin, known for his production work with everyone from Beastie Boys to Slayer to Tom Petty. Since then he has released a series of spare, back-to-basics recordings that, like “American IV,” include a number of unlikely covers, such as Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” and Beck’s “Rowboat.”
Earlier this year, Columbia/Legacy kicked off a year-long 70th birthday celebration for Cash by releasing the two-disc best-of “The Essential Johnny Cash.” Since then, the label has reissued five albums, including “The Fabulous Johnny Cash” and “Hymns by Johnny Cash.” Columbia/Legacy delivers another batch of reissues Aug. 27 in tandem with a previously unreleased recording of Cash’s Dec. 5, 1969, set at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
In addition, Dualtone has just issued “Dressed in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash,” which features covers by a host of respected Americana artists, including Rosie Flores, Bruce Robison, Rodney Crowell, and Mavericks singer Raul Malo. Coming Sept. 24 is another tribute, titled “Kindred Spirits.” The Lucky Dog/Sony Nashville set, produced by Cash’s former guitarist/former son-in-law Marty Stuart, features performances by such artists as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr., Keb’ Mo’, and Dwight Yoakam.
In still more Cash-related news, BMG just released a two-disc Sun Records collection featuring several early Cash classics; and Chris Martin, singer of British rock act Coldplay, recently told Billboard that the title track on the band’s forthcoming album, “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” is an homage to Cash. Martin called Cash “the greatest. Him, Dylan, and Hank Williams are just the greatest men with just guitars.”
Here is the full “American IV” track listing:
“The Man Comes Around” (Cash)
“Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails)
“Give My Love to Rose” (Cash)
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel)
“I Hung My Head” (Sting)
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Ewan MacColl)
“Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode)
“In My Life” (The Beatles)
“Sam Hall” (traditional)
“Danny Boy” (traditional)
“Desperado” (the Eagles)
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (Hank Williams)
“The Streets of Laredo” (traditional)
“Tear Stained Letter” (Cash)
“We’ll Meet Again” (Ink Spots)