Johnny Cash Albums Ranked

John R. Cash (born J. R. Cash; February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor.  Much of Cash’s music contained themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, especially in the latter stages of his career. He was known for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice, the distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band characterized by train-like chugging guitar rhythms, a rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts,  and a trademark all-black stage wardrobe which earned him the nickname “The Man in Black”. Cash is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide.  His genre-spanning music embraced country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel sounds. This crossover appeal earned him the rare honor of being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. Here are all of Johnny Cash albums ranked.

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10. American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

“Posthumously released albums are often very difficult to judge, because even when they’re very enjoyable, they can still be cash grabs by their labels or estates. Even the best posthumous release ever, From a Basement on the Hill, would probably have not been approved by Elliott Smith as it was put together after his death. With Johnny Cash, it’s not exactly a reason to get your hopes high, considering that throughout his career, he already had many albums that were shameless cash grabs, with re-recorded songs, or only half the tracklist new material.”

9. American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)

“American V: A Hundred Highways starts as fragile and heartbreaking as a song can possibly be, with the emotional “Help Me”, before Cash evokes judgment day on the traditional “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. It’s fascinating how well this collection of songs suits him, if you didn’t know the originals this wouldn’t even seem like a covers record. Many of these songs actually sound better in Cash’s version than in the original, like Bruce Springsteen’s “Further on Up the Road” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”.

8. American II: Unchained (1996)

“Unchained is on the same level as American Recordings and even if there are some tracks that mess with the pacing here, like Mean Eyed Cat, The One Rose and Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea, there also are some really fun tracks liked Rowboat, Sea of Heartbreak and I’ve Been Everywhere and also some really emotional tracks like Spiritual, Meet Me in Heaven and I Never Picked Cotton (this did have a fun rhythm, but really emotional lyrics). Overall I enjoyed this record and I found that the tricks that hit, hit really hard.”

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7. The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)

“Material here is almost consistently first-rate, middle-tempo, chugging rockabilly/country ballads with an occasional religious twist that is part of his charm, after all, it reflects his background and gospel number “That’s Enough” is not out of place here at all. Since Johnny Cash had this image of a lonely cowboy wanderer it just sounds completely natural that he turns to Lord when the cold, wild wind comes. Then he does something heartfelt as “I Still Miss Someone” and its such a beautiful, universal message that it could have been written centuries ago real classic.”

6. American Recordings (1994)

“It’s just Johnny Cash and his acoustic guitar. He’s not even that impressive of a guitar player. But god, the man knew how to perform. Like the behemoth of a record that got me into him, At Folsom Prison, this record tries out moods that range from the comical to the forlorn, hopeful to despondent, all of which are gripping, spell-binding, and rousing in their portrayal of the human condition. The fact that such emotions can be summoned with the most minimalist of production and arrangement are a testament to the songs and to Johnny Cash’s emotive voice and personality.”

5. At San Quentin (1969)

“The Songs here are a little more faster and rocking than Folsom nor as dark and gloomy as Folsom which is what makes these A great companion piece to Live At Folsom. A Boy Named Sue which is one of the best novelty songs first appeared here. San Quentin is a great indictment of the the Prison system in America and got such a response from the inmates Johnny gives them an encore. Wanted Man is a great song written by the great Bob Dylan. Of course Johnny Throws in a couple of his standard songs and a gospel song. Overall a great musical experience. Very few can touch Johnny Cash.”

4. American III: Solitary Man (2000)

“From the first track to the last track, it’s all misanthropic gold. Really relatable and melancholy in its upbeat delivery. Cash really was a dark and gloomy  musician and it’s rather easy to see in his lyrics. It may not be the ideal country people want to see, but it’s the country folks need to see. The grass is greener on the other side, and there’s not much one can do about it but reminisce and lament through song. Great album.”

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3. Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar (1957)

“There are lots of Cash classics to be found here. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Walk the Line,” and “Cry, Cry, Cry” have all been solidified as Man in Black staples. His live performances, particularly Live at Folsom Prison, bring a bit more passion and allow Cash to break somewhat from the studio recording mold but what is found on Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! is still very strong. The gospel tunes are, as the movie “Walk the Line” suggests, a bit too engineered and offer little that others before him did not offer.”

2. American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

“”The Man Comes Around” is one of Johnny’s finest originals, casting himself as no less than God, warning that judgment is on its way, ’til armageddon, no shalam no shalom’. Real fire and brimstone country. Then of course comes “Hurt” which was such an eerily resonant cover that even Reznor feels it has become Cash’s song (and was devastated by the power of his version).”

1. At Folsom Prison (1968)

“Johnny Cash had a wealth of great albums over his career that spanned decades but few capture the power and control of At Folsom Prison. The is partly because of the set list which draws upon his well known tracks and other raucous Cash numbers. It is also due to the delivery from Cash and the supporting cast. In typical Cash fashion, he goes beyond just singing and tries to connect with the audience via dialogue between tracks which is preserved in this recording.”