By David Browne
Updated April 29, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

On Johnny Cash’s first album for the same record company that’s given us Slayer and the Black Crowes, the Old Man in Black opts for a pretty punky move-singing a mix of country ballads and contemporary singer-songwriter meditations, accompanied only by his own strummed guitar. Even with such austere arrangements, though, Cash can’t help being himself-namely, country’s most subtly deranged gonzo. On American Recordings, he’s equally at home with sexual innuendo, a sung prayer, ranch-hand songs, an ode to Vietnam vets, and a novelty about shooting his cheatin’ woman dead. His weathered crag of a voice—the Grand Canyon of American music—is magnetic, as always. His most relaxed and folkiest album in three decades, and what do you know—he pulls it off.