The Mystery of Life

The Man in Black’s new album, The Mystery of Life, is a strange, but oddly electrifying, set of odds and ends: a throwaway tune written with Bob Dylan, a languid vocal collaboration with Tom T. Hall, a song that prophesizes the end of the world, and a remake of Cash’s chugging-train classic, ”Hey Porter.” There’s also a religious song so hokey that even Billy Graham would gag, one in which Cash declares, ”My cowboy hero hat’s off/To the man who rode a donkey/He’s the greatest cowboy of them all.” As a singer, Cash nails the notes a lot squarer than he used to, although much of the material seems left over from an earlier era. For example, the funny ”Beans for Breakfast,” in which a deserted lout wishes his wife would come home, if only to wash the dishes, is fairly sexist in a ’90s context. But the vintage Johnny Cash sound, his bass-baritone voice fronting the famous wedding of percussive acoustic guitar and single-string electric, is as fresh as the day it was born.

The Mystery of Life
  • Music