on October 18, 2000
There's something irresistable about an old, wise rebel singing songs of despair and melancholy. Johnny Cash has carved out this niche for over 45 years. He's walked the line and gone down in a burning ring of fire. He's surpassed illness and critics. "American III: Solitary Man" follows "American Recordings" (1994) and "Unchained" (1996) as Cash's third cd produced by Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys et al.) Cash shines on remakes like Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man", U2's "One", Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat". When Cash is dark, he's very dark like the lyrics in "I See A Darkness". He can turn on a dime and produce sad, painful comedy like "Nobody" and "Country Trash". He never loses the heart and soul of country/folk playing and singing. At 68, Cash is the oldest, coolest artist in my collection, and I look forward to each of his recordings because it seems like he always has some new way of seeing life and relationships. Some artists have nothing to say or make a few cds and then have nothing to say, but Johnny Cash continues to show the wisdom of age and experience and its value in our lives. I don't like country music much, but I sure do dig Johnny Cash. "American III: Solitary Man" stands on its own.
on November 6, 2005
I never liked Johnny Cash, and I've been a music fan for most of my 55+ years. Then, a year ago, I was in a used record shop in Norwich, England, when I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. "Who the hell is that?" I asked the kid behind the counter. "It's Johnny Cash," he said. And so it was, Johnny Cash singing "Spiritual", from one of the American records. I was stunned and overwhelmed by the lean beauty of that song, and the courage of the man singing it. Since that trip, I've bought all the American albums. This one, though, is simply my favorite. Cash's cover of Neil Diamond's Solitary Man is brilliant. And "The Mercy Seat" is just overwhelming in its emotional intensity and its deep ring of the truth. Was I ever wrong for all those years about The Man in Black. This music, spare, lean, intense, haunted, and brave, is unlike any American music I have ever heard. It comes closest to the raw intensity of the best of the blues. But it's all Johnny Cash, the one and only. Hear it, weep, and rejoice. This is a consummate artist at the peak of his career, even at its end.
on October 19, 2000
Faced with his own mortality, Johnny Cash is still rediscovering his artistry. "American III: Solitary Man" is his third solid release in the last six years. Working in collaboration with Rick Rubin, Cash has produced another thoughful and moving album. Johnny contributes for songs, while covering the likes of Tom Petty, David Alan Coe, U2, Nick Cave, Bert Williams, Will Oldham (!) and Neil Diamond (don't laugh, its a great song).
Cash and Rubin once again take chances, and the result is wonderful. If Cash's vocals are a little rougher than last time out (1996's "Unchained") it just adds to the emotional wallop of the music. This man has made such great music for so many years. I've been listening to Johnny Cash for almost all my life and, even during the long period in which he was phoning it in in the recording studio, Cash was more interesting than almost any other musician. The fact that Johnny Cash is still making great music is a marvel, and I hope everyone that reads this gets to hear this terrific album.
I caught on late to the "American" series collaboration between Cash & producer Rick Rubin, and purchased this after I bought American IV. That disk remains my favorite, but on American III, once again, Johnny Cash hits a home run. The most enjoyable aspect of this series has to be Cash's broad attempt to include music from all American eras, including alternative rock and public-domain folk.
When Cash covers modern artists he brings out a different patina within the song, one with hues of struggle and faith. I will never hear "One" by U2 with as much pleasure again, because I will simply pine for this version with Cash's confident vocal and Benmont Tench's bass notes on piano (sorry Bono). Cash mentions in the liner notes that he worked on "Solitary Man", "I Won't Back Down" and "The Mercy Seat" "until it felt like they were my own". This effort certainly paid off on the latter two, although I personally would categorize "Solitary Man" as the least successful cover. (Special treat for Tom Petty fans: He sings backup for both "I Won't Back Down" and "Solitary Man").
"The Mercy Seat", which sounds like it would be the outlier, actually proves a good fit. After all, it is a prison song...with a lot of religious imagery, stuff Cash is right at home with. The protagonist's paranoia isn't as evident in the presentation as in the simple tale of a man so long on death row he is not sure who is friend or foe, even himself.
Cash brings a great sense of humor to the self-deprecating vaudeville number "Nobody" and "Lucky Old Sun", and sounds like he could have just stepped out of a cabin in Cade's Cove in the 19th century as he sings "Wayfaring Stranger." He also adds some great originals: "Field of Diamonds", "I'm Leavin' Now", and my personal favorite, "Country Trash."
If you're a Cash fan, this entire series can add a new dimension to your collection. If you are just learning about this American icon, you might simply enjoy the breadth of styles represented in these disks, since the man is talented enough to pull it off-- a rare gift indeed.
on March 17, 2008
Who would imagine that an ageing Johnny Cash could reach out and cover dark and strange songs like these? OK, it's uneven, with one or two cuts actually sub-par, but "I see a darkness" is perfect, "One"--who could believe anyone could turn this into such a great song? And then, there is the utterly savage version of "Mercy Seat." Far better than any Nick Cave version, Johnny does it straight and without the histrionics. It is totally gripping--I was never an anti-death penalty person, or even particularly anti-death, but this song just blows you away. It's not the killing part that is so powerful, it's the mere fact of death itself, and the consciousness of walking to that chair like a mouse gingerly pushing down the bar on a trap while knowing what is about to happen....
And yet the song is unsentimental. The most important part, and the real hook, is the protagonist going from his "tough guy" persona in which he sticks by his story, damn your eyes, to, only at the last minute, admitting that he did lie, and that he is guilty. I find this the most powerful part of the song (and the barroom piano really brings it out in the coda). I think if it hadn't been for this song, I would have never had the courage to admit, even to myself, that I too had tried to ride on a lie all the way through the judicial system. All that time I was playing the innocent victim, I wasn't. I don't know if I deserved what I got, any more than the protagonist deserved to have his brain melted, but the first thing is to start with honesty.
That and his version of Wayfaring Stranger--a little bit strained--really spoke to me. But even the ones that didn't have a personal meaning were generally excellent ("Lucky Old Sun," "Won't Back Down"). A stunning depth and delivery. Even if you don't like his other stuff, you've got to listen to this. He can make Neil Diamond (a great song writer but not a tornado of energy as a singer) seem tremendous. 
on October 18, 2000
If you liked Bob Dylan's "Time out of mind", you will love "American III: Solitary man". This is the third Johnny Cash album on Rick Rubin's American label. Like the first one "American Recordings", it does not bother with big production, letting the man in black sing to you like he is in your living room. But whereas "American Recordings" was a solo album with Johnny Cash accompanying himself on guitar (he has limited guitar skills), "Solitary man" features beautiful accoustic guitar by the likes of Norman Blake, Mike Campbell, Randy Scruggs, Larry Perkins and Marty Stuart, delicate piano, organ and harmonium by Benmont Tench, fiddle by Laura Cash and accordion by Sheryl Crow. Whereas on "American Recordings the songs were varied in themes, the choice of songs here focuses almost exclusively on the reflections and the wisdom of a man who has done just about everything he set out to do and is now facing his demise. (He is seriously ill). From the opening line of Tom Petty's hit "I won't back down"("I won't back down, you can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won't back down, gonna' stand my ground")to the exquisite traditional "Wayfaring Stranger" which closes the album, this is a stark, yet tender, deeply moving collection(Cash's rendition of Nick Cave's "Mercy seat"-a song about a capital execution- is just chilling). Mr. Cash also has the ability to give hair raising intensity to the most simple words and to take a song which has been covered by just about everyone,like "Lucky old sun" and send chills down your spine with his rendition. He covers artists as varied as U2, Neil Diamond and David Allan Coe and yet this collection makes complete sense! He wrote one beautiful new song "Before my time" in which he reflects on his youth with a melancholy that never falls into regret. Special guests Tom Petty, Will Oldham Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and June Carter Cash sing harmony without ever intruding on the undiminished, deep, rugged, yet vulnerable baritone of this true American master. If this is a testament, one can only pray that he'll be able to add a few codicils...
on February 20, 2004
110 people have reviewed this album before me, and they all agree that this is great. I don't care what kind of music you like. I don't care how old you are or where you're from or how smart you think you are. This is human music, raw and honest and true. If you have a soul, this album and Johnny Cash's voice will touch it. There is no better music.
I recommend American IV just as highly, and even more people like it. But check this one out as well.
on July 15, 2008
Not being an expert on country music or on Johnny Cash, I must say this album is moving and very very suggestive; with simple but clever arrangements, beautiful songs and amazing vocal...
Obviously more than merely touched by age and various ailments, mr. Johnny Cash performes with great passion and suggests wisdom no young singer can convey (or even come close to conveying)...
I like it very much!
on September 13, 2001
I have been absolutely floored by this album. As Johnny is getting old and suffering from a degenerative illness, it's unknown if there will be any other new recordings by this amazing man. In the liner notes, he even states that he started it intending it to be his last.
As a result of this, his voice sounds different than before - more tender, and even a bit fragile. But still, his voice and style is unmistakably Johnny Cash, as he does a number of original pieces as well as takes on works by U2 (One), Tom Petty, and Neil Diamond.
One immediate standout to me is "Field of Diamonds", with backing vocals by June Carter Cash and Sheryl Crow and a some beautiful piano chords lying in the streams of guitar. Without shame, I'll admit tears in my eyes. Then again - harmonies (especially ones like this) always have a powerful effect on me.
There is also the great death row track "The mercy seat", penned by Nick Cave. Johnny sings/speaks the first person story of a convict on his way to and in the electric chair. The song starts with just guitar and Johnny's voice, but continues to build with organs and pianos while leaving behind the melodrama of the Cave's original.
There are many other great songs on this album - "I'm Leaving Now" features Merle Haggard and Johnny singing together "get out of my space, get out of my face, I'm leaving now"; "Country Trash" and "Before my time" are perspectives on older days; "Wayfaring Stranger" is another great gospel adaptation from the man in black and closes out the album "I'm going there to see my mother, she said she'll meet me when I come. So I'm just going over Jordan, I'm just going over home."
You can't go wrong with this album. This is music as it's supposed to be - celebratory, melencholy, full of stories, with simple but (as always) powerful instrumentation. It's a great mix of songwriting, with almost equal parts Cash originals and adaptations of others works. It stands well with (and a bit beyond) the other new Cash releases of the 90's ('American Recordings' and 'Unchained').
on October 26, 2000
Johnny Cash has a smash hit in Norway with this new album, which has been given great reviews in the media. This is simply an amazing album. He has been able to make the songs of U2, Nick Cave, Neil Diamond and Will Oldham all his own. Absolute stand out is the remarkable version of Cave's "The Mercy Seat". Other top songs are "I Won't Back Down" (with Tom Petty), "Solitary Man", "One", "I See A Darkness" (with Oldham) and "Wayfaring Stranger". Moving is also "Would You Lay With Me In A Field Of Stone", written by David Allan Coe. When I write this, the album is no. 11 in the national charts and no. 10 here in Bergen. "At San Quentin" is no. 3 in the catalog charts. "The Legend" is riding high again, and we remember his tremendous performances in Norway in 1997.