No, not Trent Reznor singing the moany over­wrought Nine Inch Nails ver­sion; I mean John­ny Cash’s take on Amer­i­can IV: The Man Comes Around, his last stu­dio al­bum. It’s grainy and sad and gen­er­al­ly awe­some. To his cred­it, Trent Reznor said “that song isn’t mine anymore.”

Johnny Cash American IV

That whole Amer­i­can IV col­lec­tion is pret­ty great. It’s got an tri­umphant Bridge Over Trou­bled Water, shar­ing the vo­cals with Fiona Ap­ple, a straight-ahead only-slightly-hilarious run through Depeche Mode’s Per­son­al Je­sus, a duet with Nick Cave on I’m So Lone­some I Could Cry, and a deeply beau­ti­ful per­for­mance of Dan­ny Boy.

But Hurt is some­thing spe­cial. Un­like Reznor, Cash doesn’t fool with the rhythm or get fan­cy with the phras­ing, he just keeps strid­ing and strid­ing along this song’s very dark and nar­row path; the ar­range­ment (by Rick Ru­bin? It doesn’t say) is fan­tas­tic, with the brood­ing rhythm on an end­less slow crescen­do be­hind the voice then van­ish­ing in­to si­lence be­hind Johnny’s voice.

And it’s John­ny Cash’s singing that you’re here for. His voice is like an old tree; rough, grainy, beau­ti­ful, in­flex­i­ble; he doesn’t leave an atom of the song’s emo­tion un­touched.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy, iTunes. Live video? John­ny was bare­ly alive, at the time. But the of­fi­cial video is quite a piece of work. Care­ful­ly con­ceived, it doesn’t pre­tend to be live, it’s nostalgia-drenched and su­per in­tense; it helps if you know some of the John­ny Cash mythol­o­gy.

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April 14, 2018
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