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*** 1/2 JOHNNY CASH, "Unchained'," American Recordings

November 03, 1996|Richard Cromelin

Some four decades after it started, Johnny Cash's career had settled into a placid, uneventful orbit. Then the country and rock patriarch teamed with maverick record producer Rick Rubin and fired up some boosters no one knew he had.

Their 1994 acoustic collaboration, "American Recordings," reinvigorated Cash's artistry as they mixed traditional music with songs by such unlikely rock-generation figures as Glenn Danzig.

The pair's follow-up builds on that foundation, sharing its predecessor's emotional purity while expanding its musical range. Backed by Tom Petty and members of the Heartbreakers, Cash blends his complex sensibility with the sympathetic vibrations of young writers and musicians to create a work of intimate moments and epic reach.

It begins with Beck's quirky love lament "Rowboat," proceeds through Soundgarden's primeval "Rusty Cage" and ends with a tongue-twisting cascade of American cities, set to a Sun Records shuffle. In between, Cash, sticking close to the gospel sounds and spiritual concerns that have always flowed through his music, confronts hard issues of mortality and never blinks. His singing, defiant and tender, rumbles right through to the marrow, excavating from every lyric an avenue to essential truths about human experience.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

TimesLine 808-8463

To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed, call TimesLine and press * and the artist's corresponding four-digit code.

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