Artist: Johnny Cash
Title: American Recordings II - Unchained
Format: Single LP
Catalogue Number: 5101-12793-1
Year of Release: 1996
A1 Rowboat (3:43)
A2 Sea Of Heartbreak (2:42)
A3 Rusty Cage (2:48)
A4 The One Rose (That' Left In My Heart) (2:26)
A5 Country Boy (2:31)
A6 Memories Are Made Of This (2:19)
A7 Spiritual (5:06)
B1 The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea (2:31)
B2 Southern Accents (4:41)
B3 Mean Eyed Cat (2:32)
B4 Meet Me In Heaven (3:21)
B5 I Never Picked Cotton (2:38)
B6 Unchained (2:52)
B7 I've Been Everywhere (3:17)
From the sleevenotes: "I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgement day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humour, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak, and love." Not sure about patriotism, but otherwise, I'm with you.
You can read the full sleevenotes by clicking on the thumbnail above. An old man reminisces and talks about songs. They're great.
The actual songs, on the other hand, are hit and miss. The winning production values of American Recordings I were not repeated, as here Johnny is backed by myriad musicians, although mostly Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It makes for a livelier album, but I'm not sure Johnny's heart is in it. The hits are Rusty Cage, Country Boy, Never Picked Cotton and I've Been Everywhere (which has similarities to the excellent There Ain't No Easy Run from the Boxset)
Memories Are Made of This is a likeable version, but reminds you that others are better. The Carter Family's Kneeling Drunkard's Plea just comes across as plain odd with this backing, as does Beck's Rowboat. Everything else is just... meh.
Except Spiritual, which hints at what is to come on the later records. It's one of the most stripped back tunes, starting with just Johnny, a picked guitar line, and Flea, who plays in some popular beat combo or other, on bass. Some slow drums and sparse piano join, but little else. The focus is on Johnny's wavering vocals, and whilst the lines themselves are a little, well, spiritual, for an atheist such as myself, it's hard not to well up at the sentiment, "Jesus, oh Jesus, I don't want to die alone". It touches something primal.