The Artist/Album: Johnny Cash, American Recordings (American, 1994)
The Reason(s) We Can’t Stop Listening: It’s hard to imagine a time where Johnny Cash wasn’t considered the Man In Black. And yet there he was in the early ’90s, struggling to regain his footing amid a growing field of gangsta rap and grunge. Enter Rick Rubin, the Jesus freak figure behind such essential ’80s records as Licensed To Ill, Reign In Blood and Raising Hell. Unlike the many other labels and producers who’d written Cash off years ago, Rubin remembered the one thing everyone else forgot–that the country legend has one hell of a voice, a commanding presence that can hold its own against the barest of chords. From its opening scene–a gun-toting, pipe-toking reminder of how songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” were basically country-fried versions of “Straight Outta Compton”–onwards, Cash plays the part of a conflicted poet with decades of bad decisions and good luck behind him.
Five more chapters would follow American Recordings weathered lead, charting the disintegration of Cash’s voice right up until his death in September of 2003, but this installment remains one of the greatest career reboots of all time.