American Recordings (album)

American Recordings
Studio album by
Released April 26, 1994
  • May 17–20, 1993
  • December 3–7, 1993
Length 42:45
Label American
Producer Rick Rubin
Johnny Cash chronology
Wanted Man
American Recordings
The Man in Black 1963–1969
American series chronology
American Recordings
Singles from American Recordings
  1. "Delia's Gone"
    Released: May 1994
  2. "Drive On"
    Released: July 1994

American Recordings is the 81st album by the country singer Johnny Cash. It was released on April 26, 1994[1] by American Recordings, after it had changed its name from Def American.

The album marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Cash, who was widely recognized as an icon of American music but whose record sales had suffered during the late 1970s and 1980s.[2]


Cash was approached by producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and heavy metal than for country music. Rubin had seen Cash perform at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert in late 1992, and felt Cash was still a vital artist who had been unfairly written off by the music industry.[1] Suffering from health problems and recovering from a relapse of his drug addiction, Cash was initially skeptical. The two men soon bonded, however, particularly when Rubin promised Cash a high level of creative control. Rubin told the singer: "I would like you to do whatever feels right for you",[1] and Cash decided to record the first solo album of his career without any accompanying musicians. "Sitting and talking and playing music… that was when we got to build up a friendship," Rubin recalled. "My fondest memories are just of hanging out and hearing his stories. He didn't speak much but, if you drew him out, he seemed to know everything. He was shy and quiet but a wise, wise man."[3]

Recording and production

Under Rubin's supervision, Cash recorded most of the album in his own Tennessee cabin or Rubin's home in Los Angeles, accompanied only by his guitar. This was a return to Cash's earliest recording style. His first producer, Sam Phillips, had determined in the 1950s that Cash's voice was best suited to a stripped-down style and a three or four-piece ensemble (Cash on vocals and guitar, backed with another guitarist and upright bass, and sometimes drums). Subsequent producers deviated from this style with more ornate backing; Cash disagreed with Jack Clement in the 1960s when the producer tried to give Cash's songs a fashionable "twangy" feel and to add frills like orchestral string sections and barbershop quartet -style backup singers. In his autobiography, Cash wrote about his frustration with Columbia Records in the 1970s and 1980s, due in part to creative disagreements, such as recording his vocals separately from the backing musicians.[4] Cash's successful collaboration with Rick Rubin was in part due to Rubin seeking a minimalist sound for his songs.[1]

"Tennessee Stud" and "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" were recorded live at the Viper Room, a Sunset Strip, Los Angeles nightclub owned at the time by Johnny Depp. "The Beast in Me" was written and originally recorded by Cash's former stepson-in-law Nick Lowe.[5] Rubin commissioned new songs from several musicians, two of which ended up on American Recordings. "Down There By The Train" was a spiritual or gospel style song of redemption by Tom Waits. "Thirteen" was a more ominous composition by Glenn Danzig, whose heavy metal band had earlier worked with Rubin; Danzig wrote the song specifically for Cash in less than twenty minutes.[6]

Two songs on the album had been recorded by Cash previously: "Delia's Gone", for the 1962 album The Sound of Johnny Cash and "Oh, Bury Me Not", for 1965's Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West.

The album cover was photographed while Cash was visiting Australia, at Werribee near Melbourne.[7]

Critical reception

American Recordings received widespread acclaim from critics.[1] Q magazine deemed it the year's most sincere and ambitious record,[16] while NME found it "uplifting and life affirming because the message is taught through adversity, ill luck and fighting for survival".[13] David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, said Cash remained a captivating singer throughout the austerely arranged country ballads and bizarre reflections, calling the record "his most relaxed and folkiest album in three decades".[11] In a rave review in Rolling Stone, Anthony DeCurtis hailed it as one of Cash's greatest albums because of his self-possessed, "biblically intense" take on traditional folk songs and Rubin's no-frills production: "American Recordings is at once monumental and viscerally intimate, fiercely true to the legend of Johnny Cash and entirely contemporary."[15] Mark Cooper from Mojo called it a "breathtaking blend of the confessional and the self-mythologising".[1] In the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot wrote that Cash's singing was effectively dramatic throughout "the quagmire of humor and bloodshed, pathos and treachery evoked by these songs",[9] while Los Angeles Times critic Randy Lewis said they "peer into the dark corners of the American soul" on what was a "milestone work" for Cash.[12]

In a negative review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau felt American Recordings had been overhyped by antisocial sycophants and lacked the vital shuffle beat of Cash's best music, citing "Delia's Gone" and perhaps "Thirteen" as "the only time words and voice combine with the undeniable seniority his claque claims to hear everywhere".[17] In retrospect, AllMusic's Mark Deming wrote that the album "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."[8]

At the end of 1994, American Recordings was voted the seventh best album of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide.[18] In other year-end lists, it was ranked 36th by Select, 23rd by NME, 19th by Rockdelux, 17th by Les Inrockuptibles, 15th by The Face, 5th by the Los Angeles Times, 4th by Mojo, and 2nd by OOR.[10] At the 1995 Grammy Awards, it won Cash a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.[1] Rolling Stone later placed the record at number 366 on the magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[19] and Country Music Television (CMT) ranked it number 27 on the network's list of the top 40 greatest country albums in its 2006 list.[20]

Track listing


  • Rick Rubin – producer
  • Johnny Cash – acoustic guitar, vocals, main performer, liner notes
  • Jim Scott – mixing
  • David Ferguson – sound recordist
  • Stephen Marcussen – mastering
  • Christine Cano – design
  • Martyn Atkins – art director, photographer


Chart (1994) Peak
U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums 23
U.S. Billboard 200 110
Canadian RPM Country Albums 9
Canadian RPM Top Albums 72


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[21] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[23] N/A 236,000[22]

^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Thomson, Graeme (2011). "You Remembered Me". The Resurrection of Johnny Cash: Hurt, Redemption and American Recordings. Jawbone Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-1906002367. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  2. ^ Turner, Steve (November 2003). "Fade to Black". Third Way. p. 11. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  3. ^ Rees, Paul (October 2009). "The Q Interview: Rick Rubin". Q. p. 98.
  4. ^ Cash, J., & Carr, P. (1997). Cash: The autobiography (p. 408). San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.
  5. ^ "The Beast In Me". Song facts. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-06.
  6. ^ "Glenn Danzig". (interview). Denmark.
  7. ^ Presenters: Glenn Ridge (2011-06-19). Weekends with Glenn Ridge. Melbourne, Australia. 97:10 minutes in. MTR.
  8. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "American Recordings". AllMusic. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Kot, Greg (April 28, 1994). "The Master". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d "American Recordings". Acclaimed Music. Archived from the original on 2017-09-22. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Browne, David (April 29, 1994). "American Recordings". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Lewis, Randy (April 25, 1994). "Album Review : A Walk on the Dark Side (****) : JOHNNY CASH; "American Recordings" ( American )". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  13. ^ a b NME. London: 46. October 8, 1994.CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  14. ^ Horton, Kaleb (April 8, 2018). "Johnny Cash: American Recordings Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Rolling Stone. New York: 97. May 19, 1994.CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  16. ^ Q. London: 117. September 1994.CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert (June 14, 1994). "Virtue Unrewarded". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  18. ^ "The 1994 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  19. ^ "Johnny Cash". Archived from the original on September 22, 2015. Retrieved October 9, 2015 – via AcclaimedMusicnet.
  20. ^ "CMT 40 Greatest Albums: Episode". Country Music Television. Archived from the original on February 28, 2007. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  21. ^ "British album certifications – Johnyn Cash – American recordings". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type American recordings in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  22. ^ "8ask". Billboard. 19 February 2003. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  23. ^ "American album certifications – Johnyn Cash – American recordings". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External links