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Cash V: A Hundred Highways
Artist: Johnny Cash
Producer: Rick Rubin
American Recordings

I couldn’t wait

Until I left the store

I took the shrink wrap

And ripped it off the jewel case

In my hand

I read all the reviews

And I read the front page news

It was the number one record

In the land…

Johnny Cash has traveled many miles, and has traversed some mighty rugged roads since his first hit: 

Cry, Cry, Cry 
(free mp3 cover by Dr. BLT) 

On American V: A Hundred Highways Cash proves that, dead or alive, Cash is the quintessential artist of our time.  As I listened to the songs, one by one, I discovered that every single highway takes me home.  Every song takes me to that place tucked away deep in my soul that is the very essence of who I am as a human being.  

Free download for Phantom Tollbooth visitors: 
Here’s to 100 Highways 
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT ©2006 

His decidedly effete, often strained vocal productions are outshined by his timeless “voice.”  He is the definitive voice of reason, the definitive voice of suffering, the definitive voice of country, the definitive voice of rock and the definitive voice of soul.  Don’t be fooled by vocal chords seemingly exhausted of vitality.  If his vocal chords were a lemon, Cash V would be the ensuing bittersweet lemonade. 

When Cash and Rubin joined forces in putting these final songs together, both sensed that death was lurking around the corner, though they couldn’t have known it would be a matter of mere months.  The deathbed that awaits Cash is overshadowed by his sheer determination to conquer what existential philosophers and psychologists have identified as humankind’s greatest obstacle­our fear of death.  In this CD, Johnny Cash is like the month of March that wants to skip April and May just to meet up, once again with “June.”  It is a March that comes in like a lamb, roars like a lion somewhere around the middle, and then surrenders at the end, like a lamb before the slaughter.  

He is both meek, and bold---both tender and tough.  He is a lamb in "Help Me," the humble, poignant prayer of a dying man penned by Larry Gatlin, and he is a lion in God’s "Gonna Cut You Down," a traditional song that clearly rocks (though I can do without the God-as-hit-man-in-the-sky concept that takes me back to some of the old hell, fire and brimstone messages I was exposed to as a young boy).   

Cash is tender, and treads lightly on Gordon Lightfoot’s golden classic, "If You Could Read My Mind."  Cash’s rendition is more than Lightfoot “Lite.”  Yes, as the song goes, “…heroes often fail…,” but not Johnny, even though at this point, the hero is often frail.  The song is so sparse in its production and presence that it feels like a ghost town, inhabited only by the ghost of Johnny Cash.  

The "309," an original Cash number (pun intended), is the train that Cash has been waiting for.  It will take him to join June.  It’s probably the same train that took Buck Owens to his final destination in the spring of 2006.  The angels should have cause to celebrate now that …

…Buck Has Joined Johnny in Heaven 
Words and music by Dr. BLT ©2006   

The "309" is said to be the last song Johnny Cash ever wrote and recorded. 

The anticipation of meeting up with his then dearly departed wife is portrayed once again in "Further Up the Road," a Bruce Springsteen gem that Johnny polished up for June. 

"A Hundred Highways"  demonstrates the combined force of great songs, a great artist, and a great producer, namely, Rick Rubin.  As swans songs go, these ones soar to new heights.  

When "Four Strong Winds" blow on the eleventh track you know that Johnny’s season is about to end. It’s still March, but it’s beginning to feel like September.  The “strong winds” feels like one gentle breeze whispering “This legend’s time is about to expire.”  It was penned by another Canadian artist, Ian Tyson.  

March finally goes out like a lamb on the final song, as Johnny declares, “I Am Free From the Chain Gang Now.”  Then he takes a bow and we probably won’t hear from him again.  Or will we?  Rubin has all but promised an American VI, expected to be released in 2007.  Just because the Man in Black is gone doesn’t mean he won’t be back.  I’ll be there When the Man Comes Around. 

Here’s to 100 highways
Here’s to all the song
You’ve made well known
Here’s to your last journey
And the legacy you own
Every single highway
Takes me home…

By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT



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