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Listening Room: Johnny Cash, Ziggy Marley an dmore
Johnny Cash “American V: A Hundred Highways” American/Lost Highway ***1/2
Death, spirituality and past transgressions are hardly unusual fare for a Johnny Cash album, but they make for a more poignant and affecting mix on “American V: A Hundred Highways,” the fi rst posthumous set of all-new material since Cash’s death in September 2003.
Despite ill health, Cash had been working on the album, part of his prolifi c American Recordings sessions with producer Rick Rubin, before his wife, June Carter Cash, died in May 2003 and accelerated the process as a balm to his grief. And even though Cash predicts that “It should be awhile before I see Doctor Death” in “Like the 309” — the last song he ever wrote — his imminent demise is clearly on Cash’s mind, giving the 12 songs an air of triumphant resignation, a recognition of a job well done throughout his 73 years of lessons learned hard but learned nonetheless.
He’s reflective on his own “I Came to Believe” (“... in a power much higher than I”) and finds a sense of liberation in Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and the Jimmie Rogers-popularized “I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now.” Images of a “dead man’s suit” and a “lucky graveyard” make Bruce Springsteen’s “Further On (Up the Road)” a perfect fi t for the album, while mournful renditions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” Hank Williams’ “On the Evening Train” and Hugh Moffatt’s “Rose of My Heart” make fi ne elegies for June.
As he has throughout most of the American Recordings series, Rubin produces with a light touch, letting Cash’s vocals carry the songs and embellishing them with subtle flavors and textures from members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel and others. It all makes for a moving work, and while we’d hate to see Cash become a posthumous cash cow like Elvis Presley or Tupac Shakur, an “American VI,” at least, might not be such a bad thing.
Ziggy Marley “Love is My Religion” Tuff Gong
The specter of his father, Bob Marley, has worn hard on oldest son Ziggy, but to his credit he’s soldiered on and sounds less encumbered by the legacy with each successive release. Familiar, loping reggae rhythms accented by African flavors drive “Love is My Religion,” the younger Marley’s second solo album since disbanding the sibling group the Melody Makers. You can hardly argue with the spiritual message of the title track or the populist politics of “Be Free” and “Still the Storms.” Nor will you be able to sit still as Marley and company roll through spirited tracks such as “Into the Groove,” “A Lifetime” and the particularly soulful “Blackcat.” Let’s hope there are no religious conversions in his near future. (Available exclusively at Target stores.)
New and noteworthy
Blow Up Hollywood, “The Diaries of Private Henry Hill” (MJ12 Music) — The New York ambient rockers eulogize a U.S. soldier slain in Iraq to, of course, make a larger point.
Johnny Dowd, “Cruel Words” (Bongo Beat) — The Americana singer-songwriter welcomes Mekons members Jon Langford and Sally Timms on his sixth album.
Peter Gammons, “Never Slow Down, Never Grow Old” (Rounder) — Hall of Fame sports writer and broadcaster Gammons takes a bluesrock side step with a few Major League baseballers in tow.
Hot One, “Hot One”
(Modern Imperial) — The debut album from the new band led by former Shudder to Think member Nathan Larson.
Rodney Jerkins, “Versatility” (Darkchild/ Bungalo) — The heavily credentialed producer (Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Michael Jackson, J.Lo) offers up an album of 11 instrumentals, which, with his blessing, other artists and producers can use for their own purposes.
Los Palominos, “Evoluciones” (Univision) — Another set of modern Tejano from the four Arreola brothers of Uvalde, Texas.
Mark McGuinn, “One Man’s Crazy” (Blue Flamingo) — The country singer and songwriter delivers his fi rst studio album since 2002.
Alice Peacock, “Who I Am” (Peacock Music/Toucan Cove/Universal) — The second full-length album from the Chicago singer-songwriter with the extensive movie and TV music resume.
Rise Against, “Sufferer and the Witness” (Geffen) — The Chicago punkers incorporate spoken word into the mix on their fourth album.
Switchback, “Falling Water River” (self-released) — The iconoclastic Chicago duo’s ninth album vent their anti-war sentiments via the story of one Private William Henry.
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