While country classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line” and “A Boy Named Sue” stand as the music legend’s most recognizable, popular work, it’s the albums he recorded with producer Rick Rubin for American Recordings that cemented his legacy. On March 24th, the six albums will be re-released in a special vinyl box set.
Cash’s partnership with Rubin and his American Recordings label began in 1994 with the eponymous release. A collection of Cash originals and left-of-center covers, like Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” and Glenn Danzig’s “Thirteen,” American Recordings stripped away any production gloss to showcase Cash’s enveloping baritone. The 1996 follow-up, American Recordings II: Unchained, was even more adventurous, enlisting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as Cash’s backing band and expanding the reach of the covers to include songs by Beck and Soundgarden.
The series doubled as an artistic rebirth for the Man in Black, who physically was in increasingly poor health. His recording of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” for 2002’s American IV: The Man Comes Around — and its stark video — would come to symbolize his final days. He died the following year.
Released posthumously, American V: A Hundred Highways and American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave were both culled from the sessions for American V. “Like the 309,” which appeared on A Hundred Highways, was the last song Cash ever wrote.
His American Recordings debut was named Best Contemporary Folk Album at the 1995 Grammy Awards, while Unchained won the Best Country Album Grammy in 1998.