More thoughts on American Cash
You know, listening to American III: Solitary Man convinces me that that disc was the high point of the collaboration between Cash and producer Rick Rubin. This record is also, likely, the most challenging - content-wise - of the series. The ultimate tone is hopeful, but many of these songs are a little more intelligent and introspective than the likes of "Hurt."
I might say that Will Oldham's "I See a Darkness," in retrospect, might be the best track from the series. Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" will likely be considered a contender for that position, too. Cash performed a miracle, saving Reznor's "Hurt" from angsty self-indulgence, but Oldham's song has a depth to it that embraces Cash - rather than the other way 'round. Cash's, by 2000, deep and weathered voice slides into Oldham's song, filling and fulfilling it.
Listen to it. The songwriting is a bit (understatement) better than "Hurt" or "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and the tone of the song fits the somber sound of Cash's late-career voice.
Unearthed, the outtakes box set that I bought only now - largely because I am really into the American Recordings series and I had the spare cash - shows that there was a lot of really good stuff left in the studio. Two tracks, in particular, probably should have made it to one of the discs: a cover of Marley's "Redemption Song" (with Joe Strummer) and Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."
Cash has the experience, in an abstract sense, and sounds like it enough that both of those songs work well. Perhaps American III would have benefitted from them. They are personal enough and hopeful enough that they might work there. They aren't in the mode that dominates American IV. Not eschatological enough.