Home Read Classic Album Review: Johnny Cash | American II: Unchained

Classic Album Review: Johnny Cash | American II: Unchained

The Man In Black & Rick Rubin pick up where 1994's American Recordings left off.

This came out in 2003 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


If the music biz has a motto, it’s this: Any good idea is an idea worth stealing. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing. At least not for consumers.

Consider Johnny Cash’s back catalog. Over the past year or so, Sony Music has revamped, remastered and reissued a whole whack of his classic titles, generating considerable praise, along with profit. Now, competitor Universal is getting into the act, dishing up a handful of ’80s and ’90s releases in its catalog. Granted, these are no-frills affairs in comparison, but hey, you won’t catch me complaining about anybody who wants to reissue classic Cash cuts. Here’s one title in the series:

American II: Unchained


THE STORY: After more or less retiring from recording, Cash was coerced back into the studio by superstar rock producer Rick Rubin, who helmed his essential 1994 comeback album American Recordings. This 1996 followup continues in the same vein, with a set list divided between country classics and alt-rock gems and an all-star backing band featuring Tom Petty and most of his Heartbreakers, along with everyone from Marty Stuart to Mick Fleetwood.

HIGHLIGHTS: Johnny’s gently drifting version of Beck’s Rowboat is worth the price on its own. Then again, so is his defiant revamp of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage. Ditto the strummy rockabilly originals Country Boy and Mean Eyed Cat, the bluegrass take on the Carter Family’s Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea, the sombre recitation of Petty’s Southern Accents and even the bopcat version of I’ve Been Everywhere.