In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, to honor Braid’s new record, we’re picking our favorite songs from “comeback” records.
When talking about comeback albums, there’s a lot of lackluster stuff out there. I didn’t love The Dismemberment Plan’s Uncanney Valley. And Pixies’ Indie Cindy? Don’t even get me started. What I generally like more, though, are albums that find older artists reinventing themselves. And while those aren’t technically comebacks—those artists have always been around—they’re always billed as such, and thus I’m getting off on a technicality for this one.
When you’re talking about “legacy artists reinventing themselves,” you have to talk about Johnny Cash, who, with 1994’s American Recordings, really managed to bring his career into a whole new light. Recorded with Rick Rubin, American Recordings was Cash’s 81st record and found the legendary Man In Black flashing back to a time when it was just him and a guitar in the recording booth.
There are a lot of great songs on American Recordings, including the Glenn Danzig-penned “Thirteen” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire,” but I’ve always been partial to Cash’s cover of Kris Kristofferson’s song “Why Me Lord.” Kristofferson’s 1972 record Jesus Was A Capricorn is one of my classic country favorites, but Cash’s take on “Why Me Lord” takes the track to a whole different (and much darker) place. In 1994, Cash was 62 years old and facing down mortality, having spent dozens of years living hard and fast while all looped up on speed and booze. “Why Me Lord” blends Cash’s wild past with his love of gospel music, and the singer ultimately humbling himself before God after a hedonistic run. It’s a song that fits Cash’s journey to a tee, even if he didn’t write it himself.