Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man (American Recordings): "Is it getting better or do you feel the same?" asks the Man In Black on a stripped-down version of U2's "One." Both: Cash moves while standing still. Johnny Cash's recordings can still stir the soul. His huge voice, the perfect tool for his storytelling, has only deepened with wisdom, and you can feel the pick between his graceful fingers sliding across the steel strings of his guitar. "I Won't Back Down," the lead track, sets the tone — Tom Petty sings back-ups to his own song, but Cash makes it his own. He uses his latest album, produced by Rick Rubin, to reinvent songs, including Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" and Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat," possibly the standout here. Mostly downbeat, the album feels, at times, as if it were created beneath a black cloud. "I See the Darkness" ("You know I have the drive / To live I won't let go/ But can you see its opposition comes rising up sometimes") is frank and confessional. "I realize that generally songs don't say anything that songs weren't saying a hundred years ago; the difference is we are saying it in a different way," writes Cash in the liner notes. He doesn't live in his past. He doesn't escape his past. He owns it. — Jenny Tatone

copyright (c) 2001 michael goldberg | design by elephantcloud