On This Day: Johnny Cash Releases 93rd Album ‘American V: A Hundred Highways’ in 2006

by Clayton Edwards

Johnny Cash was an icon of country and folk music. His voice is unmistakable as is his attitude. You could learn much about Cash’s worldview just by spinning his records. The posthumously-released American V: A Hundred Highways is no exception to that. However, in that release, we learn less about what Cash thinks about the world and more about his thoughts on leaving it. He worked on the album between May and August of 2003. He died in September of that year.

The song selection on A Hundred Highways makes it sound as though Johnny Cash knew his days were coming to an end. However, that doesn’t mean that he packed the album with sad songs and funeral dirges. In fact, you can find a bit of humor as Cash looks back on his life through these songs. This record sounds like a farewell from a man who has fully accepted his exit from the world to the right kind of ear.

Sonically, A Hundred Highways features bare-bones production. For the most part, it is just Johnny Cash and his guitar. This sparse arrangement lends gravity to many of the songs on the album. At the same time, the fluctuation in Cash’s vocal quality highlights where he was in life. At times, Johnny sang with all the vigor he had in the early days. Other times, it seemed as if he was struggling to get the words out.

Highlights From Johnny Cash’s A Hundred Highways

This album contains the results of Johnny Cash’s final recording sessions. So, that adds some weight to the songs on the album. We’re going to look at some of the highlights from the album.

‘Help Me’

Johnny Cash opens the album with this Larry Gatlin cover. The song is from the perspective of a man who is nearing his end. He asks God to help him walk one more mile and smile one more smile. This song sets up the rest of the collection in a poignant way. At the same time, knowing that Cash is nearing his end makes this a heavy song to hear.

‘Rose of My Heart’

Johnny Cash’s relationship with June Carter is iconic. Their love is the standard by which many measure their relationships. When he went into the studio to work on A Hundred Highways, Johnny had just lost June. She passed away in mid-May of 2003. So, this love song really hits home.

Hugh Moffatt penned the song. However, Johnny Cash lived it. The opening line sets the tone for this beautiful tune. However, the context makes it a sad one. “We’re the best partners this world’s ever seen. / Together as close as can be. / Sometimes it’s hard to find time in between, / To tell you what you are to me.”

Johnny Cash’s Rendition of the Traditional Song ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’

This song features some of the biggest production on the album. The stomp-clap percussion drives the song forward. At the same time, it threatens to drown out the guitar work. However, Cash’s voice is strong and full of conviction in this song. Out of context, it’s a great rendition of a traditional. In context, it’ll give you chills.