Thursday, July 19, 2007

Johnny Cash - American Recordings

(large image)

Johnny Cash had a string of albums throughout the '80s that played up the man's lighter side, his sense of humor, and the variety-show-host side of his public personality. But in 1994, Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash reminded the world about The Man In Black.

The cover of American Recordings forces the viewer to gaze upward at a distinctly menacing Cash. His body is hidden in the depths of a billowing black trenchcoat, and he rests his hands upon a black guitar case as if he were standing at the pulpit. His shock of dark hair blows wildly like the overgrown weeds in which he stands, and the darkness around his eyes frame his fearsome gaze. The movement of the clouds against the tinted sky emphasizes the chaotic drama of the world around us.

But the true brilliance of the cover rests at Johnny's feet. Two black and white dogs sit, panting, one on each side of Cash. They epitomize the love, the fun, the goodness and the Godliness that has always pervaded the best of Cash's music. Both dogs are calm, but their excitement is obvious, a whirlwind of potential energy waiting for the cue to spring into action. The dogs' natural energy is constrained by their training (both dogs are looking off camera, likely at an animal trainer who coaches them from the side), an interesting parallel to the way that Rubin's guidance led Cash to what was arguably the greatest body of work of his entire career.