Mr. Johnny Cash has come full circle with this haunting album of original songs and covers. The opening track "The Man Comes Around" sets the tone with his vision of Armageddon: death on a pale horse followed by hell and the voices of 100 million angels.
On this album Cash covers songs by artists as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Don Henley, Depeche Mode, Hank Williams, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. The songs themselves share common themes of revenge, regret and redemption and they complement the three new songs Cash wrote for this record. Marty Stuart and John Frusciante also join in as musicians.
Time and time again he's able to whittle the songs into his own creation, as he showed on Solitary Man and previous recordings through his collaboration with Rick Rubin. Raspy and tired, his voice still comforts and resonates with fervor. A few strings may snap here and there but the instrument is beautiful. The wily piano on "Personal Jesus " and Cash's wise voice ensnare those seeking quick faith. On "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nail's Trent, his voice crescendos to a violent revenge and then quickly falls into a hush. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" with Nick Cave is a pearl of a moment.
The loner has always been Cash's calling card and he has not been abandoned on this record. Cash has never given up on the prisoner and his song "Give My Love to Rose", a plaintive wail from a dying man to his wife and son, captures the regret of he who has paid his debt to society and missed family life. The defiant growl of "Sam Hall" gleefully spits in the eye of authority. Don Henley joins Cash on "Desperado", who sounds like he's singing to the rapscallion he was in his younger days.
Familiar songs like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (with Fiona Apple) and "In My Life" fit him like a worn leather glove and he gives them a new light.
When an album opens with Armageddon and ends with the heartbreaking "We'll Meet Again", the message is clear. Hopefully we'll be blessed with more recordings.