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Johnny Cash

Unchained: American Recordings II

Nov 96

Heartbreakers and a Chili Pepper behind the man in black

Country rock

Cash brought along a secret weapon that turned this album into the best of his late great American Recordings.

Career rejuvenation comes to few in the music business – but when Rick Rubin put Johnny Cash in the studio – it began a stunning six album collaboration that lasted until Cash’s sad passing in 2003. Not least because of the taut, polished but vibrant sound that the producer created, it’s gritty but clean and puts the man in black four square in your room.

Apart from a dizzying array of choice material - Unchained: American Recordings II also has at its core a fantastic secret weapon - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are the backing band. Other guests included Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, and Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Heartbreakers sheer mojo enlivens absolutely every track. It’s not all country twang – Cash takes Soundgraden’s track Rusty Cage and injects it with the hugest riff you’ve ever heard. He wrote Mean Eyed Cat 45 years earlier for wasn’t satisfied with it until he added a third verse for this album. Then when you’ve been boogied there’s the slow shimmering epic Spiritual with its gut-wrenching vocal performance.

The album finishes on a mucky road witticism where Cash tells us I’ve Been Everywhere man as he races through the name of every major American city at full chat. Unchained even trumps the much-revered first album October 1994. Volume II injected a band and is one of the great man’s creative masterpieces.