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Tomorrow The Green Grass

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released February 14, 1995 | American Recordings

Released in 1992, Hollywood Town Hall wasn't a hit, but it received enough rave reviews to considerably raise the Jayhawks' profile, and it certainly heightened expectations for their next album. On 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass, the Jayhawks found themselves in the tricky situation of trying to match the quality of Hollywood Town Hall without simply repeating themselves, and they came remarkably close to achieving that daunting task. Rather than simply mimic the warm and unaffected sound of Hollywood Town Hall, the Jayhawks reached for a broader and more eclectic approach on Tomorrow the Green Grass; with the presence of new keyboard player Karen Grotberg and the addition of strings on several tracks, the album certainly sounded fuller and more artful, but Mark Olson and Gary Louris' harmonies were still the band's secret weapon, and were as pure and emotionally compelling as ever, while Louris' electric guitar solos gave the songs real rock & roll muscle without disturbing the essentially gentle nature of their music. And the best songs on Tomorrow the Green Grass are every bit as good as anything on Hollywood Town Hall, especially the opening hat trick of "Blue," "I'll Run Away," and "Miss Williams' Guitar" (the latter a joyous love letter to Olson's new bride, Victoria Williams). But while nearly every song on Hollywood Town Hall seemed like a classic in context, the greater stylistic variety of Tomorrow the Green Grass had the consequence of making a few of the songs in the second half of the album seem less than essential, most notably "Ann Jane" and "Pray for Me," though they hardly counted as disappointments, and the album rallies to a rousing finale with "Ten Little Kids." If Hollywood Town Hall is inarguably the Jayhawks' best album, Tomorrow the Green Grass runs a very close second, and though it was to be the group's last album with Mark Olson, the eclectic approach pointed the way to the sound and style of the fine records the Louris-led version of the band would go on to make. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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American VI: Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash

Country - Released January 1, 2010 | American Recordings

Released for the occasion of Johnny Cash's 78th birthday, American VI: Ain't No Grave is the final installment in the collaboration between Cash and Rick Rubin that began with 1994’s American Recordings. These ten songs were cut during the same sessions for American V: A Hundred Highways. Guitarists Mike Campbell, Matt Sweeney, Smokey Hormel, and Benmont Tench on keyboards were present, as were other musicians. June Carter Cash died during routine surgery during these sessions. Cash, though grief stricken and with full knowledge that he too was dying due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, worked as often as his health would allow. He died three months after these songs were recorded. Ain't No Grave is an elegiac and deeply spiritual album, a formal goodbye without regret from a man and an artist of almost mythic stature. The song selection is rooted in the Americana, folk, country, and gospel traditions. There is an excellent reading of Tom Paxton's “Wonder Where I’m Bound” that doesn’t feel as lost as the original, but more a statement after reflecting on a life fully lived. Likewise his version of Sheryl Crow's “Redemption Day” sums up Cash’s own long commitment to social justice, and the need for individual accountability; its statement of hope is underscored here not as a dream, but as a conviction. Kris Kristofferson's “For the Good Times” begins with the words: “Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over/But life goes on/And this ole world will keep on turning.” It offers a portrait of the dignity and grace Cash performed with all his life. “I Corinthian’s 15:55” is his last self-penned song, a sweet, country-gospel melody that echoes far beyond the margins of contemporary music to an earlier time, and looks at the future with unshakable faith. The title track is a country-gospel-blues by Brother Claude Ely -- it’s a fierce showdown with the Reaper, with the singer winning it hands down. There are excellent covers of Bob Nolan's “Cool Water,” a song Cash often sang live that expresses empathy for the downtrodden, and “Satisfied Mind,” written by Jack Rhodes and Red Hayes, played on a lone acoustic guitar, which dispenses the truth of earthly life into two-minutes-and-forty-eight seconds. Ed McCurdy's “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” is a true anti-war song that serves as a testimonial. The album’s final cut is Queen Liliuokalani's traditional Hawaiian ballad “Aloha Oe,” one of the sweetest, most affectionate leaving songs ever written. And Cash’s version? It’s devastatingly beautiful; to the point of tears. If there were any justice, Ain't No Grave would be the last album released under Cash’s name. It is not only a compelling contribution to his legacy, but an offering that closes the historic American Recordings series with the same stamp of quality that began it. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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American V: A Hundred Highways

Johnny Cash

Country - Released January 1, 2006 | American Recordings

American V: A Hundred Highways is the long-awaited album of Johnny Cash's final recordings, the basic tracks for which (i.e., Cash's vocals) were recorded in 2002-2003, with overdubs added by producer Rick Rubin after his death on September 12, 2003, at age 71. Between 1994 and 2002, Cash and Rubin had succeeded in fashioning a third act for the veteran country singer's career, following his acclaimed 1950s work for Sun Records and his popular recordings for Columbia in the 1960s and '70s. In the '80s, Cash's star had faded, but Rubin reinvented him as a hip country-folk-rock elder at 62 with American Recordings (1994), his first new studio album to reach the pop charts in 18 years. Unchained (1996) and American III: Solitary Man (2000) continued the comeback, at least as far as the critics were concerned, though none of the albums was actually a big seller. But American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), propelled by Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and a powerful video, stayed in the pop charts longer than any Cash album since 1969's Johnny Cash at San Quentin. By 2002, however, Cash was in failing health, homebound and in a wheelchair, and he suffered a personal blow when his wife, June Carter Cash, died on May 15, 2003. The American series, which posited Cash as an aged sage and the repository for a bottomless American songbook, had already shown a predilection for gloom in the name of gravity; it's no surprise that the fifth and final volume would be even more concerned with, as three earlier Cash compilations had put it, God, Love, and Murder. The ailing septuagenarian certainly sounds like he's near the end of his life, but that said, he doesn't sound bad. Cash was never a great singer in a technical sense: he hadn't much range, his pitch often wobbled, and his lack of breath control sometimes found him grasping for sound at the end of lines. But he was a great singer in the sense of projecting a persona through his voice; his emotional range, which went from a Sinatra-like swagger to an almost embarrassingly intimate vulnerability, was as wide as the spread of notes he could hit confidently was narrow. Such a singer doesn't really lose that much with age; in fact, he gains even more interpretive depth. Listening to this album, one can't get around the knowledge that it is a posthumous collection made in Cash's last days, but even without that context, it would have much the same impact. The album begins with two religious songs, Larry Gatlin's "Help Me," a plea to God, and the traditional "God's Gonna Cut You Down," which, in a sense, answers that plea. The finality of death thus established, Cash launches into what is billed as the last song he ever wrote, "Like the 309," which is about a train taking his casket away. The same image is used later in the cover of Hank Williams' "On the Evening Train," in which a man and his child put the coffin of a wife and mother on another train. Cash sings these songs in a restrained manner, and even has a sense of humor in "Like the 309," in which he complains about his asthma: "It should be awhile/Before I see Doctor Death/So it would sure be nice/If I could get my breath." In between the two train songs come songs that may not have been about death when their authors wrote them, but sure sound like they are here. As written, Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" seems to concern a romantic breakup expressed in literary and cinematic terms, but in Cash's voice, lines like "You know that ghost is me" and "But stories always end" become inescapably elegiac. Bruce Springsteen's "Further On (Up the Road)" is even easier to interpret as a call to the hereafter, with lines like "Got on my dead man's suit and my smilin' skull ring/My lucky graveyard boots and song to sing." These two songs make a pair with the album's two closing songs. Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds" is, like the Lightfoot selection, a folk standard by a Canadian songwriter, also nominally about romantic dissolution, although here the singer who is "bound for moving on" doesn't seem likely to come back. And the closing song, "I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now," may have lyrics implying that the unjustly imprisoned narrator has been set free, but in Cash's voice it sounds like he's been executed instead and is singing from beyond the grave. The four songs in between "On the Evening Train" and "Four Strong Winds," dealing with faith and love (the former expressed in a previously recorded 1984 Cash copyright, "I Came to Believe"), are weaker than what surrounds them, but they serve to complete the picture. And it's worth noting that Cash at death's door still outsings croaking Rod McKuen on the songwriter's ever-cloying "Love's Been Good to Me." Cash may never have heard Rubin's overdubs, but they are restrained and tasteful, never doing anything more than to support the singer and the song. If the entire series of American recordings makes for a fitting finale to a great career, American V: A Hundred Highways is a more than respectable coda. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rainy Day Music

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released April 8, 2003 | American Recordings

The Jayhawks' seventh album backs away from their "super-pop" releases like Smile and the underrated Sound of Lies and looks back to their earlier, rootsier sound. The band has whittled itself down again following the departures of keyboardist Jen Gunderman and longtime guitarist Kraig Johnson, leaving behind core songwriter and vocalist Gary Louris, founding member Marc Perlman on bass, and longtime drummer Tim O'Reagan assisted by newcomer Stephen McCarthy on guitar. Produced by Ethan Johns (and overseen by Rick Rubin), Rainy Day Music goes back even further than the band's first albums, channeling the ghosts of the Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Buffalo Springfield, and interpreting their '60s folk jangle and lazy, sunny harmonies through the Jayhawks' own sweetly awkward formula. "Madman," in particular, gives the listener a sense of Déjà Vu, sounding like a long lost CSNY demo, and the chiming Rickenbacker 12-string guitar of the leadoff track, "Stumbling Through the Dark," could've been lifted right from the master tapes of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The first six tracks are all vintage Louris gems -- trembling and honest, with warm melodies and hooks for days. Unfortunately, the album stumbles in the second half with the inclusion of two O' Reagan compositions (which try too hard to evoke John Lennon's world-weary mumble and Bob Dylan's nasal whine), and an unsuccessful stab at heartland gospel on "Come to the River." Although the summertime love song "Angelyne" and the waltzing "Will I See You in Heaven" provide bright spots near the end, the album never fully recovers. This is a real shame, since the whole affair starts so strong, and it seems as though if side B could've been trimmed by about four songs (and 15 minutes), Rainy Day Music would stand alongside their strongest albums. Still, fans who complained that their last two albums were "too poppy" or "not rootsy enough" should be pleased with this direction, and it's certainly an album that gets better with each listen, so it may yet prove to be worth its weight in acoustic gold. © Zac Johnson /TiVo
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Unearthed

Johnny Cash

Country - Released January 1, 2003 | American Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Unearthed is, before anything else, a monolith. It's a whopping five CDs of material, four of which are previously unreleased. The first three are outtakes from the four American Recordings albums Johnny Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin. Disc four is an entirely new album of gospel songs Cash recorded from his mother's hymnal around the time of American III: Solitary Man. The final disc is a compilation drawn from the released albums. It was planned as a tenth anniversary celebration of the Cash and Rubin collaboration that began in 1992, while they were working on a fifth album. It is, effectively, the last will and testament from country music's grandest and most towering and enduring figure, Hank Williams not withstanding. The box was finished and the final mixes were sent to Cash, though he died before they arrived. During Cash's tenure with American Recordings that began in 1992, he and Rubin would cut anywhere between 40 and 80 songs for each record; for the first one they recorded over 100. Disc one, entitled "Who's Gonna Cry," features Cash singing unaccompanied as he did on American Recordings, his debut for the label. Discs two and three -- entitled "Trouble in Mind" and "Redemption Songs," respectively -- come from the material recorded for the other three and are collaborations with singers such as Nick Cave, Glen Campbell, Fiona Apple, Tom Petty, Joe Strummer, and Carl Perkins, as well as other musicians who include Norman Blake, the Heartbreakers, the rhythm section for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smokey Hormel, the Red Devils, John Carter Cash, as well as Laura and Rosanne and Cowboy Jack Clement. There are also alternate takes of some material used on the recordings with different accompaniment, including a voice and acoustic guitar read of "When the Man Comes Around." Between-track banter is abundant, as is the humor. While the majority of this material is terrific, and arguably some of it could have been used interchangeably with what was released, there are tracks that were experiments that don't quite measure up, though they remain examples of the Man in Black at his most inspired. The reading of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a case in point. It is a classic country song that was defined by George Jones. Cash's reading, though honest, taught, and fierce, lacks the pathos and harrowing depth of the Jones version. Likewise, the duet with Fiona Apple on Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" just out and out falters. "Gentle on My Mind," with Glen Campbell, is obviously fraught with genuine admiration on the part of both singers, but it's obvious that the definitive version had already been done and this one misses. Likewise, some of the material from Solitary Man and Unchained is well-intentioned and passionately wrought, but it is obvious why these songs didn't make the cut. But there are genuine revelations, too, such as the solo acoustic treatment of "Long Black Veil." It leaves its previous 1966 incarnation in the dust. On this one, the song is from the heart of the lonesome, love-torn ghost, looking upon the woman who wanders the graveyard and weeps at his headstone. To say it is chilling is one thing; the fact that it opens the entire collection is nearly devastating. Cash's covers of Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" define the term Americana, and add great depth and dimension to the original versions. While a solo version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" was issued on Joe Strummer's posthumous Streetcore, it is this duet with Cash that is the most moving and clear -- and Cash refused to change the Jamaican patois in Marley's language. Likewise, the two versions of Dolly Parton's "I'm a Drifter" are both visionary, as is a sage read of Neil Young's "Pocahontas" and the shattering take of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times (Come Again No More)." Cash's retelling of Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand" gives the song an entirely different meaning. On the canonical material, evidenced by "Trouble in Mind," "Salty Dog," Jean Ritchie's "The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore," Marty Robbins' "Big Iron," Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," and Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," Cash sings with the authority of a singer who has inherited the legacy tradition he carries in the grain of his voice. But it is the fourth disc, consisting of old country gospel songs, that steals the entire show here. Most of these songs Cash carried with him most of his life. Many come from a battered and tattered book of his mother's; Cash offers a completely unadorned devotional reading of spirituals from the annals of his Southern gothic gospel experience. While some of these are closely associated with the African-American gospel tradition of Thomas Dorsey, Cash points out in the liner notes that these songs existed simultaneously in the white church. In these 14 songs, from the rounds of "I'll Fly Away" and "Do Lord" to the expansive "Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies" and "In the Sweet By and By" to the modern gospel classic "I Am a Pilgrim" by Merle Travis, Cash's conviction and complexity are everywhere evident. These are simple songs with complex emotions, and in his readings of them they carry the paradoxes of his life, from drug addiction to grace to social justice stances to reverence, humility, and the willingness to live the gospel. They are towering because of their vulnerability and their need to communicate directly -- with searing yet human intensity -- the revelation of the singer's held truth. Unearthed is a true best-of set: a collection of the finest tracks from the remarkable symbiotic collaboration between Cash and Rubin. The five CDs are accompanied by a stellar package that includes a 100-page booklet with brilliant and deeply moving liner notes by Sylvie Simmons. Her written portraiture of Cash in his wheelchair talking about the music here and his future plans is realistic, humble, and respectfully empathetic. In addition, each track on the set is annotated in the book by directly attributed quotes she gathered from Cash, and also from Rubin and the many principals involved in the sessions. One hopes that this is the last box of the recordings from American, because it is so fine, so brilliantly woven, and so soulfully presented with an ear to quality and vision that anything other than the assemblage of American V from the recordings already completed would seem superfluous, blunting the impact of this grand and necessary document. Here is the depth of the vision and commitment of Johnny Cash to song, presented elegantly and magnificently, a mirror image of the man and his myth. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Rainy Day Music

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released April 29, 2003 | American Recordings

The Jayhawks' seventh album backs away from their "super-pop" releases like Smile and the underrated Sound of Lies and looks back to their earlier, rootsier sound. The band has whittled itself down again following the departures of keyboardist Jen Gunderman and longtime guitarist Kraig Johnson, leaving behind core songwriter and vocalist Gary Louris, founding member Marc Perlman on bass, and longtime drummer Tim O'Reagan assisted by newcomer Stephen McCarthy on guitar. Produced by Ethan Johns (and overseen by Rick Rubin), Rainy Day Music goes back even further than the band's first albums, channeling the ghosts of the Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Buffalo Springfield, and interpreting their '60s folk jangle and lazy, sunny harmonies through the Jayhawks' own sweetly awkward formula. "Madman," in particular, gives the listener a sense of Déjà Vu, sounding like a long lost CSNY demo, and the chiming Rickenbacker 12-string guitar of the leadoff track, "Stumbling Through the Dark," could've been lifted right from the master tapes of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The first six tracks are all vintage Louris gems -- trembling and honest, with warm melodies and hooks for days. Unfortunately, the album stumbles in the second half with the inclusion of two O' Reagan compositions (which try too hard to evoke John Lennon's world-weary mumble and Bob Dylan's nasal whine), and an unsuccessful stab at heartland gospel on "Come to the River." Although the summertime love song "Angelyne" and the waltzing "Will I See You in Heaven" provide bright spots near the end, the album never fully recovers. This is a real shame, since the whole affair starts so strong, and it seems as though if side B could've been trimmed by about four songs (and 15 minutes), Rainy Day Music would stand alongside their strongest albums. Still, fans who complained that their last two albums were "too poppy" or "not rootsy enough" should be pleased with this direction, and it's certainly an album that gets better with each listen, so it may yet prove to be worth its weight in acoustic gold. © Zac Johnson /TiVo
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American IV: The Man Comes Around

Johnny Cash

Country - Released January 1, 2002 | American Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Produced by Rick Rubin, Johnny Cash’s legendary American recordings are not only among his major musical statements, but also its moving final will. Released in November 2002, American IV – The Man Comes Around is the last volume of the collection that was released while Cash was still alive (He passed away 10 months after its release). Using the famous “cover” recipe, Johnny Cash managed in this record to turn other musicians’ compositions, sometimes recent work, into his own unique style. Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, and Sting are all covered, and when listening to Cash’s rendition of their songs it is sometimes difficult to recall their original versions. As usual, Rubin’s work on the soundboard is devoted to Johnny Cash’s voice. Caught it its last whispers, the voice is haunting, yet never morose.Indeed, the voice is key in “American IV”.  The material can bring chills (the video clip of Hurt is deeply moving and, after listening to the track, Trent Reznor proclaimed “It’s like I have lost my girlfriend. This song doesn’t belong to me anymore…”), Give My Love To Rose evokes a sadness that is a strike at the heart, and I Hung My Head expresses an innocence that is profoundly tender. Even when he deals with the classic repertoire of country music, many that he recorded in the past (Sam Hall, Give My Love To Rose, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Streets of Laredo, Danny Boy) the Man in Black brings to his interpretation the sorrow and sensitivity of his dying condition, always with grace and dignity. A sad yet festive funeral, the record includes many featured guest artists: Fiona Apple and Nick Cave sing, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marty Stuart strum their guitars, old partner Cowboy Jack Clement pulls out his dobro, Joey Waronker abandons Beck and Air to join in the rhythm section, and Benmont Tench brings in an array of keyboards including an organ, harmonium, Mellotron, vibraphone and even a Wurlitzer. Music lovers from all over the world recognized what a masterpiece American IV – The Man Comes Around had been created, and its reception led it to be a gold record, which was Johnny Cash’s first in thirty years. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Smile

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released May 9, 2000 | American Recordings

With Smile, the Jayhawks drop yet another sizable chunk of their alt-country sound by the roadside, adding in its place healthy doses of power pop and modern electronic music. Almost half of Smile's songs feature looped percussion, overdubbed drum tracks, or flat-out, funky backbeats. Little blips of sound skitter underneath the mostly acoustic guitars on the wistful "What Led Me to This Town" and make "Queen of the World" a worthy candidate for a dance remix (if the Jayhawks were ever to consider such a thing). Their second record since the departure of founder and leader Mark Olson, Smile is meant as a direct reaction to the pessimism of Sound of Lies, their underappreciated, moody offering from 1997. Ironically, with the charismatic Gary Louris now fronting the group alone, they sound more like a band than ever before. Despite the modern touches, though, the fact remains that Smile retains just enough of a distinctly Americana feeling. On the warm and twangy "Better Days," one of Louris' best songs in years, he sings with genuine regret and heartache the way he treated a long ago lover, and on "Break in the Clouds" he celebrates the comforts of domestic contentment, complete with pedal steel and soaring harmonies that recall the band's landmark work Hollywood Town Hall from 1992. The general shift in direction may alienate a few long-term fans, but much like friends Wilco achieved with their adventurous Summerteeth, Smile's modern touches may bring even more people into the band's orbit. What never changes on the Jayhawks' albums, it seems, are the blissful melodies and well-constructed tunes, and that may just be enough for even the toughest critics. © John Duffy /TiVo
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American III: Solitary Man

Johnny Cash

Country - Released January 1, 2000 | American Recordings

The Man in Black shows hints of gray on American III: Solitary Man, his first studio album since being interrupted by a series of serious illnesses in 1997. While the inevitability of aging has been the downfall of many of his contemporaries, Johnny Cash's dark convictions and powerful presence have gone from rough hardwood to solid stone. The stark beauty of his 1994 release American Recordings and the warm, friendly collaborations on 1996's Unchained combine to create two distinct moods: one of living-room jam sessions with invited friends, and another of stark solo (and near-solo) songs highlighting Cash's years and stories. Partnering once again with Tom Petty, the two join together on Petty's own "I Won't Back Down" and the Neil Diamond-penned title track. Cash also lays his lonesome hands on U2's "One" and reunites with fellow outlaw Merle Haggard on the stubborn "I'm Leavin' Now." These duets and well-known covers show an inviting side of Johnny Cash. But the real highlights of the album are those reminiscent of his American Recordings songs; they feature just the man and his guitar, with nothing else to clutter the story. The creaks and despair of the vaudeville song "Nobody" tell of a man who has become hardened by his solitude, while the Palace hymn "I See a Darkness" soars with the passion of a thousand gospel choirs, even though there are only two men singing. Although at times it is difficult to hear past Tom Petty's growl or Sheryl Crow's young harmonies in the more popular songs Cash covers, these obscure prison songs and country ballads sound as honest and heartfelt as his own compositions. At age 68, his warm baritone may waver but his passion never does. © Zac Johnson /TiVo
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Smile

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released January 1, 2000 | American Recordings

With Smile, the Jayhawks drop yet another sizable chunk of their alt-country sound by the roadside, adding in its place healthy doses of power pop and modern electronic music. Almost half of Smile's songs feature looped percussion, overdubbed drum tracks, or flat-out, funky backbeats. Little blips of sound skitter underneath the mostly acoustic guitars on the wistful "What Led Me to This Town" and make "Queen of the World" a worthy candidate for a dance remix (if the Jayhawks were ever to consider such a thing). Their second record since the departure of founder and leader Mark Olson, Smile is meant as a direct reaction to the pessimism of Sound of Lies, their underappreciated, moody offering from 1997. Ironically, with the charismatic Gary Louris now fronting the group alone, they sound more like a band than ever before. Despite the modern touches, though, the fact remains that Smile retains just enough of a distinctly Americana feeling. On the warm and twangy "Better Days," one of Louris' best songs in years, he sings with genuine regret and heartache the way he treated a long ago lover, and on "Break in the Clouds" he celebrates the comforts of domestic contentment, complete with pedal steel and soaring harmonies that recall the band's landmark work Hollywood Town Hall from 1992. The general shift in direction may alienate a few long-term fans, but much like friends Wilco achieved with their adventurous Summerteeth, Smile's modern touches may bring even more people into the band's orbit. What never changes on the Jayhawks' albums, it seems, are the blissful melodies and well-constructed tunes, and that may just be enough for even the toughest critics. © John Duffy /TiVo
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Sound Of Lies

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released April 22, 1997 | American Recordings

Following Mark Olson's amicable departure, the remaining Jayhawks reconvened under the direction of Gary Louris to record Sound of Lies, the band's most ambitious album to date. Like Wilco's Being There, Sound of Lies uses country-rock as a foundation and wanders off into a variety of different sonic territories, including surf rock and Beatlesque pop, bringing the music closer to the sound of adult alternative pop/rock. Although the surface of the album is pleasant and melodic, Louris has written a uniformly harrowing set of songs, inspired both by the dissolution of his partnership with Olson and a recent divorce. The lyrics have a naked, emotional honesty which would have been more affecting if the music echoed its sentiment, yet the record still has a subtle grace and power, proving that the Jayhawks remain a distinctive band without Olson. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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Sound Of Lies

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released January 1, 1997 | American Recordings

Following Mark Olson's amicable departure, the remaining Jayhawks reconvened under the direction of Gary Louris to record Sound of Lies, the band's most ambitious album to date. Like Wilco's Being There, Sound of Lies uses country-rock as a foundation and wanders off into a variety of different sonic territories, including surf rock and Beatlesque pop, bringing the music closer to the sound of adult alternative pop/rock. Although the surface of the album is pleasant and melodic, Louris has written a uniformly harrowing set of songs, inspired both by the dissolution of his partnership with Olson and a recent divorce. The lyrics have a naked, emotional honesty which would have been more affecting if the music echoed its sentiment, yet the record still has a subtle grace and power, proving that the Jayhawks remain a distinctive band without Olson. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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American II: Unchained

Johnny Cash

Country - Released November 5, 1996 | American Recordings

After 1994's American Recordings revitalized Johnny Cash's career, he and producer Rick Rubin had to come up with an encore, and in some respects 1996's Unchained was the sort of album many were expecting American Recordings to be. Instead of the solo acoustic approach of American Recordings, Unchained paired Cash with a noted rock band Rubin had worked with in the past -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, whose roots-conscious style and Southern heritage would seemingly make them compatible with the Man in Black. There's no arguing that Petty and his band sound fully committed on Unchained and deliver uniformly heartfelt and expert performances. However, part of what made American Recordings so effective was the opportunity to hear Cash's emotionally forceful vocals with only the most minimal accompaniment, and as good as the Heartbreakers are, in their presence Cash sounds a bit more restrained and less willing to push himself. Also, while having Cash cover Glenn Danzig's "Thirteen" worked unexpectedly well on American Recordings, taking on Beck and Soundgarden doesn't fare nearly as well here, and Cash's version of "Memories Are Made of This" may have been a better match in theory, but it doesn't quite make it in practice. But there are more than a few triumphant moments on this disc, including inspired recuts of "Country Boy" and "Mean Eyed Cat," a dignified and deeply felt interpretation of Petty's "Southern Accents," and a rollicking tear through "I've Been Everywhere" for the finale. If Unchained didn't seem like an event or an instant classic like its immediate predecessor, it confirmed Cash was still a vital artist with plenty of life in him, no mean feat for a man of 64 who'd been making records for more than 40 years. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Three Snakes And One Charm

The Black Crowes

Rock - Released January 1, 1996 | American Recordings

With Amorica, the Black Crowes began developing a distinctive sound, shading their Stonesy Southern boogie with a variety of rootsy and psychedelic overtones. But where Amorica was rich with kaleidescopic colors, Three Snakes and One Charm is stripped-down and direct. Sure, it has a punchy, muscular sound that is, if anything, more eclectic than its predecessor, but the production is distressingly monotonous and the songs lack strong hooks. Even with its faults, Three Snakes and One Charm is a winning album, mainly because the Black Crowes' musicianship continues to deepen -- the musical fusions and eclecticism are seamless, particularly from lead guitarist Rich Robinson. Their musicianship would be even more impressive if the songs were equal in quality. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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American Recordings

Johnny Cash

Country - Released April 26, 1994 | American Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Stereophile: Record To Die For
Johnny Cash was in the unenviable position of being a living legend who was beloved by fans of classic country music without being able to interest anyone in his most recent work when he was signed to Rick Rubin's American Recordings label in 1994. Rubin, best known for his work with edgy rockers and hip-hop acts, opted to produce Cash's first album for American, and as he tried to brainstorm an approach that would introduce Cash to a new audience, he struck upon a brilliant idea -- doing nothing. For American Recordings, Rubin simply set up some recording equipment in Cash's Tennessee cabin and recorded him singing a set of songs accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. The result is an album that captured the glorious details of Johnny Cash's voice and allowed him to demonstrate just how emotionally powerful an instrument he possessed. While Rubin clearly brought some material to Cash for these sessions -- it's hard to imagine he would have recorded tunes by Glenn Danzig or Tom Waits without a bit of prodding -- Cash manages to put his stamp on every tune on this set, and he also brought some excellent new songs to the table, including the Vietnam veteran's memoir "Drive On," the powerful testimony of faith "Redemption," and a sly but moving recollection of his wild younger days, "Like a Soldier." American Recordings became a critical sensation and a commercial success, though it was overrated in some quarters simply because it reminded audiences that one of America's greatest musical talents was still capable of making compelling music, something he had never stopped doing even if no one bothered to listen. Still, American Recordings did something very important -- it gave Cash a chance to show how much he could do with a set of great songs and no creative interference, and it afforded him the respect he'd been denied for so long, and the result is a powerful and intimate album that brought the Man in Black back to the spotlight, where he belonged. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Amorica.

The Black Crowes

Rock - Released January 1, 1994 | American Recordings

On Amorica, the Black Crowes finally come into their own, taking their cue from the most relaxed, groove-oriented tracks on their previous album. While the album contains no immediately obvious singles, the songs are the best the band has ever written, stretching out into a hard, jam-oriented, funky blues-rock. The Black Crowes' influences are still discernible -- no band celebrates the glory days of rock culture quite as enthusiastically -- but they use the music of the Stones, the Faces, and Little Feat much the same way the Stones used the music of Chuck Berry: it's a starting point that leads the band into a new direction, incorporating different musical genres, and making the music original. That sense of reinterpretation is what keeps Amorica fresh. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion

The Black Crowes

Rock - Released January 1, 1992 | American Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The addition of the more technically gifted guitarist Marc Ford and a full-time organist gives the Black Crowes room to stretch out on The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, perhaps the band's finest moment. Using Rich Robinson's descending chord progressions as a base, the band grooves its way through a remarkably fresh-sounding collection of Faces-like rockers and ballads, tearing into the material with flair and confidence and really coming into its own as a top-notch rock & roll outfit. But while the focus is undeniably on the band's musical chemistry, Southern Harmony also boasts a strong collection of songs, striking a perfect balance between the concise Shake Your Money Maker and their later, more jam-oriented records. While there aren't as many obvious singles as on their debut album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is the best expression of the Crowes' ability to take a classic, tried-and-true sound and make it their own. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hollywood Town Hall

The Jayhawks

Rock - Released January 1, 1992 | American Recordings

It was one of the more unlikely major label releases of 1992 -- nothing to do with grunge, certainly not a last holdout from '80s mainstream sludge. On the flip side, it wasn't really the incipient alternative country/No Depression sound either, for all that there was a clear influence from the likes of Gram Parsons and fellow travelers throughout the grooves. This wasn't a sepia-toned collection of murder ballads or the similarly minded efforts that were almost overreactions to Nashville's triumphalism throughout the '90s. At base, Hollywood Town Hall found a finely balanced point -- accessible enough for should-have-been success (sclerotic classic rock station programmers were fools to ignore this while still playing the Eagles into the ground) but bowing to no trends. Its lack of variety tells against a bit -- while there are certainly stronger moments than others, most of the songs do have a tendency to blend into each other -- but the core strengths of the group come through. George Drakoulias fleshed out the sound just enough, with the side help of performers like Benmont Tench and Nicky Hopkins adding fine extra touches without swamping the identity of the group. Piano and organ may be prevalent, but it's really Olson and Louris' great harmonies that are the core of things, giving songs like "Crowded in the Wings" and "Settled Down Like Rain" a high-and-lonesome sparkle. Callahan's a good drummer, if not particularly noteworthy, but he keeps the pace steady without dominating the tracks, Drakoulias keeping him back in the mix a bit. Olson's eventual departure isn't really explained by this disc -- he might have been tired of the attempt to aim for commercial success, but this sounds more like something made for the group's own satisfaction that connects beyond it as well. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Shake Your Money Maker

The Black Crowes

Rock - Released January 1, 1990 | American Recordings

The Black Crowes' debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, may borrow heavily from the bluesy hard rock grooves of the Rolling Stones and Faces (plus a bit of classic soul), but the band gets away with it due to sharp songwriting and an ear for strong riffs and chorus melodies, not to mention the gritty, muscular rhythm guitar of Rich Robinson and brother Chris' appropriate vocal swagger. Unlike their later records, the Crowes don't really stretch out and jam that much on Money Maker, but that helps distill their virtues into a handful of memorable singles ("Jealous Again," "She Talks to Angels," a cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle"), and most of the album tracks maintain an equally high standard. Shake Your Money Maker may not be stunningly original, but it doesn't need to be; it's the most concise demonstration of the fact that the Black Crowes are a great, classic rock & roll band. © Steve Huey /TiVo