http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/79939c150c1661bc07748885c382714fa8f20673.jpg American V: A Hundred Highways

Johnny Cash

American V: A Hundred Highways

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 4 0
June 26, 2006

Wheelchair-bound, nearly blind and close to the end, Johnny Cash nonetheless punched in for work immediately after American IV: The Man Comes Around was released in 2002. The first posthumous album in the Rick Rubin-produced American series will reportedly be followed by at least one more. Still, A Hundred Highways feels like a deathbed benediction. The snarling brawn and pitch control and oom-chicka-boom good humor of his great earlier recordings were long behind him, but it turns out those weren't the secret of his art anyway. The glory of Cash's records was the dignity and gravity he imparted to any old trifle his producers tossed at him, and as long as he had breath left in him, he could play the Man in Black.

Luckily, Rubin had an immaculate sense of how to frame Cash's voice — these stark, mostly acoustic arrangements don't try to conceal the singer's ruined instrument but find authority in its quavers and crags. He was even better at picking songs for Cash to Cashify, and this time they're specifically about helplessness, acceptance and romantic nostalgia in the face of approaching death. There are no transfigurations of modern-rock songs here. Instead, the repertoire comes from Americana blue chips (like Hank Sr., Springsteen and Trad. Arr., whose "God's Gonna Cut You Down" gets a magnificently chilling performance), and Cash himself, including his final composition, a train-song-as-meditation-on-mortality called "Like the 309." It's a hard record to bear, but it's a deep one: Concluding with a resigned rerecording of 1962's "I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now," Cash makes it clear that the prison he always sang about was his mortal body and the world.

Album Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Money For Nothing”

    Dire Straits | 1984

    Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

    More Song Stories entries »