Johnny Cash: Songwriter – posthumous patchwork is a pleasant surprise

Estimated read time 2 min read

When Johnny Cash recorded the demos that would eventually form the basis of Songwriter, in Nashville in 1993, he would have been unaware that just around the corner lay the fruitful collaboration with Rick Rubin that was about to resurrect his career. Instead, the outlook looked bleak, after a 1980s that had seen him in and out of rehab and a disastrous stint on Mercury Records. A collection of songs that he’d written over the preceding 30 years, the demos lay forgotten until his son, John Carter Cash, found them in 2023. Aware that the arrangements sounded dated, he stripped back the tracks until all that was left was his father’s unmistakable voice, and then assembled a crack band – some of whom had previously backed Cash – to complement it.

Given the record’s tortuous gestation, the results are surprisingly good. A couple of the songs (Like a Soldier and the tribute to Vietnam veterans Drive On) later appeared on 1994’s American Recordings, but lead single Well Alright – a tale of laundromat seduction – has a humour and lightness of touch largely absent from the Rubin years, while I Love You Tonite is a touchingly earnest affirmation of his love for wife June. A welcome surprise.


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