After June Carter passed away in May 2003, Johnny Cash spent the final months of his life recording tracks for what would ultimately become A Hundred Highways—the fifth and last in a series of solo releases he made with the architect of his mid-’90s comeback, producer Rick Rubin. Cash’s health was an issue at the time these tracks were cut, but he sounds resolute and fully committed to the songs, which he must have known would be the last he’d put on a record. His choices say a lot about his state of mind as he pleads for strength on “Help Me,” and reflects on life’s single certainty on “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” The trembling in Cash’s voice only adds to the emotion of the performances, as he treats us to a range of tunes that includes originals, covers by Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Lightfoot, and others, and of course, some train songs and a few backwoods spirituals. Cash’s voice and guitar are delicately supported by impeccably tasteful backing from guitarists Mike Campbell and Smokey Hormel, and keyboardist Benmont Tench—who had all played on Cash’s previous American albums—and the result is a rich, evocative, and simultaneously sad and uplifting album. This is the last honestly new collection of songs we’ll ever hear from the Man in Black, and what a treasure it is. Farewell John. American Recordings.
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