Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around (American(

Cash even reprises his own Sun-era “Give My Love to Rose.”

Weathered by age, weakened by illness, Johnny Cash, at 70, continues implacably to make music, and if The Man Comes Around, his latest release, cannot command adoration, it nevertheless demands, at a minimum, attention.

As on his preceding three American Recordings collaborations with producer Rick Rubin, the new CD spotlights Cash’s increasingly coarse voice, often with minimal instrumentation and just as often to dubious effect. The dubiety of that effect, unfortunately, derives in large measure from his choices of covers, which form roughly half of The Man Comes Around and which have lately occasioned grumbles and gibes from the musical illuminati. At any number of levels, for instance, Cash’s interpretation of Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s “Desperado,” however aurally innocuous, borders on a cosmic “been there, done that”—the mind boggles at its superfluity. His cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “In My Life,” meanwhile, seems almost tragically misinformed; from a lyric and existential standpoint, the song works far better for Cash in 2002 than the Beatles in 1965, but from a vocal standpoint, it can do nothing but make his devotees cringe.

That said, The Man Comes Around has its merits: Cash adds a few more originals to the catalog, ably performs some traditionals, and, in a gutsy move that bridges 45 years, even reprises his own Sun-era “Give My Love to Rose.”

The covers here that work, moreover, work well. Particularly moving: when Cash sings Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” when the present of the Man in Black’s fast-fading baritone perforce conjures the past of Art Garfunkel’s high-flying tenor, the fragile landscape of memory, of time and place forever colored by music, quakes.

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