Album Review

Johnny Cash - Songwriter

While at moments haphazard, in the end, the record is honest and real, with songs stripped bare to showcase the artist at his essence.

Album - Johnny Cash - Songwriter
June 27, 2024 3:43 pm GMT

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Johnny Cash - Songwriter

Label: Mercury Nashville/UMe

Producers: Johnny Cash & David “Fergie” Ferguson

Release Date: June 28, 2024

Tracklisting:

1. Hello Out There
2. Spotlight
3. Drive On
4. I Love You Tonite
5. Have You Ever Been to Little Rock?
6. Well Alright
7. She Sang Sweet Baby James
8. Poor Valley Girl
9. Soldier Boy
10. Sing It Pretty Sue
11. Like A Soldier

Songwriter doesn’t contain life-altering tunes, nor is it some definitive collection of Johnny Cash. In fact, many of the tracks on the posthumous release feel inconsequential, but that’s okay – necessary even – as the Man in Black tended to cast shadows over who Cash truly was: one of music’s greatest pens.

When tracing the country legend’s storied career, it’s difficult to imagine it ever being pocked by periods of in-betweens and uncertainties. However, the early 1990s found the artist without major label backing, likely with little idea of the comeback he would soon experience alongside producer Rick Rubin. So what did Cash do in this static time? Like he always did, he made music. From years worth of untouched material, the icon recorded an album’s worth of songwriting demos that were shelved for a season of renewal thanks to Rubin and the success of the American Recordings.

Many of those forgotten songs have now been unearthed and exist today as Songwriter. Featuring an eclectic, almost curious, array of songs, they’re all weighty and entrancing, yet feather-light and undemanding. With casual, though vital, listens like the ruminating waltz, ‘I Love You Tonite,’ and ‘She Sang Sweet Baby James,’ with its striking trill, there are equally impenetrable offerings like the shuffling veteran’s ode ‘Drive On’ and the deceptively cheery soliloquy ‘Soldier Boy’ that are given a levity. It makes for an arbitrary collection of either feel-good or feel-everything tunes, an album that’s all at once beautiful and bewildering, insignificant and essential.

While at moments haphazard, in the end, the record is honest and real, with songs stripped bare to showcase the artist at his essence. Across the album’s offerings – from simple slices of life like the charming fluff-and-fold ballad, ‘Well Alright,’ to the more existential, like the heavenly, near prophetic, opus ‘Hello Out There’ – listeners get reacquainted with a man who had his finger on the pulse of exactly what it meant to be human.

8/10

Johnny Cash’s 2024 project, Songwriter, is available everywhere June 28 via Mercury Nashville/UMe.

For more on Johnny Cash, see below:

Written by Alli Patton
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