Johnny Cash was a name I knew for a long time without ever hearing his music. LIke most people my age, I had parents who grew up around the era when Johnny Cash was the king of cool. He was like Elvis and James Dean mixed into one. However I didn’t actually know any of this songs until he covered Nine Inch Nails.
In March 2003 the video was released. Even though it sounded nothing like what I was into at that time (around this time I was still a Ska/Punk kid), the song (and the video) had an incredible level of sadness to it. Having not been a huge Nail Inch Nails fan at the time I wasn’t aware of the original and believed this to be a Cash original the first time I heard it. Everything about the song sounded like it was coming from Cash’s life experiences. Trent Reznor even said he was deeply moved by the cover and found it beautiful and meaningful.
I still didn’t get the album right away though. That wouldn’t be for another year or two when I heard the song The Man Comes Around during the opening credits of Dawn of the Dead. I finally decided to pick up a copy. Despite the instrumentation on Man Comes Around and Hurt the albums best moments come from the more stripped down songs like Give My Love to Rose, In My Life and Desperado.
Rick Rubin did a fantastic job picking out songs that represent Cash. The album feels like a goodbye record (which it sadly was as Cash died in late 2003). Songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Tear Stained Letter have an overwhelming mood of sadness advanced by Cash’s deep voice.
The best track on the album though is the lovely rendition of Vera Lynn’s famous We’ll Meet Again. Being one of the most popular ‘farewell songs’ for TV shows, radio shows and retirements Cash wraps up his long and impressive musical career with a chorus of backup singers promising us that we will see each other again one day. It’s the perfect way to end an album and to put the final farewell in a great career.