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American V: A Hundred Highways, Johnny Cash

American Recordings, Lost Highway Records, July 4, 2006

Track Listing: 1. Help Me, 2. God’s Gonna Cut You Down, 3. Like the 309, 4. If You Could Read My Mind, 5. Further On Up the Road, 6. On the Evening Train, 7. I Came to Believe, 8. Love’s Been Good to Me, 9. A Legend in My Time, 10. Rose of My Heart, 11. Four Strong Winds, 12. I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now

“Everybody take a look, see I’m doing fine
Then load my box on the 309”

-fromLike the 309

Some can’t be stopped for anything. They just keep finding a way back, returning back to the top. Squaring off with the obligatory demons—the devil rum, suitcases full of drugs and rock and roll clichés, a merry-go-round of personal tragedies—does not seem to matter at all to these escape artists. Hell, for some, not even a casket can contain them.

American V: A Hundred Highways was supposed to be the final release of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series. The result was a Number 1 offering from the great beyond. Makes you wonder if the man in black was somehow still laying down tracks from further on up the road. And then word of American VI stokes that fire.

“Got my dead man’s suit and my smilin’ skull ring
My lucky graveyard boots and a song to sing
I got a song to sing, it keeps me out of the cold
And I’ll meet you further on up the road”

-fromFurther On Up The Road

Turns out, traveling by road is the only way to go. It does the body and mind good. Proof leaks out all around—in all that is left behind—in weathered highway cracks, on dirty motel sheets and dusty desert trails, along majestic mountain vistas … even in the thickening yellow yoke on an old, chipped Denny’s plate at some invisible interstate oasis. It’s all you, baby, all you.

“Now I been out in the desert, just doin’ my time
Searchin’ through the dust, lookin’ for a sign”

-fromFurther On Up The Road

While the sky seems perfectly still as the boy peers out from a tiny Airbus window, the road is motion. The pavement and white stripes race into the past, moving on without end. The car and its passengers race the sun and chase destinations that you hope to make by nightfall.

“I’ve been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home
Still in all I’m happy”

-fromLove’s Been Good to Me

The traveler hears a thousand goodbyes. On any given night, eyes shut out the day and a sleepy reminiscence offers up the names and faces. But as the road signs blur and highway lines morph into old Ramada Inn beds, it does not have to be sad, exactly. Thoughts of tomorrow’s adventures remain. Such is the law of perpetual motion of the road with its old goodbyes and new hellos. Memories make way for new experiences. It is what helps him rise with the dawn, put back on his long black coat, pick up the guitar case, and keep moving on, destination unknown.

“When you reached the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won’t read that book again
Because the ending’s just too hard to take”

-fromIf You Could Read My Mind

Ultimately, it is the unending movement of the road that keeps the sadness at bay. It reminds you that, before long, he’ll surely find his way back this way again. For some, it’s just the way it’s written.

“In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see”

-fromIf You Could Read My Mind