by: Johnny Cash

Compiled and designed in the manner of Love, Murder, and God, three thematically compiled Johnny Cash anthologies released to wide acclaim in the spring of 2000, Life brings together 18 songs from Cash's back catalog that in one way or another deal with the nuts and bolts of many people's existence -- home, nation, work, family, surviving hard times, and celebrating good times. Of course, the nature of this theme is broader and not nearly as cleanly defined as the themes of the three previous sets, and a few of these songs might have fared better elsewhere -- "Where Did We Go Right" and "You're the Nearest Thing to Heaven" would have fit nicely on Love, while "I Talk to Jesus Everyday" and "Lead Me Gently Home" would not feel out of place on God. But as a summation of the broad and idiosyncratic worldview of Johnny Cash, Life fares very well indeed; Cash could set a protest song like "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" or "Man in Black" next to the fiercely patriotic "Ragged Old Flag" and see no contradiction, and celebrate the importance of hard work ("Country Trash") while savoring the sweet prospect of punching out the boss ("Oney"). And as befits a man who had more than his share of ups and downs, "I'm Alright Now," in which he sings his praises of life on the straight and narrow, is followed two cuts later by "I Wish I Was Crazy Again," in which Cash and his old running buddy Waylon Jennings confess to a nostalgia for the bitter pleasures of the barroom and the street corner. All of which is to say these songs really do reflect a life as it was lived by one John R. Cash, and while this is by no stretch of the imagination a definitive look at the mind or the music of Johnny Cash, Life is an album that at once honors its theme as well as the man whose work inspired it; it's a fitting addition to the series. ~ Mark Deming

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