In 1996, on his Rick Rubin-produced album Unchained, Johnny Cash covered Soundgarden’s stomp-rock howler “Rusty Cage,” transforming its Zeppelin wails into dusty, hardbitten poetry and its battering-ram riffs into elemental acoustic country and then back into battering-ram riffs. Years later, after Cash died, Chris Cornell took Johnny Cash’s words and turned them into his own version of elemental acoustic country.
Cornell’s song “You Never Knew My Mind” is part of Johnny Cash: Forever Words, a new compilation where musicians take the unpublished works of Cash — poems, letters, things like that — and turn them into new songs. It’s a Mermaid Avenue situations, a music legends words becoming songs even if the legend in question never turned them into songs.
Cornell’s song “You Never Knew My Mind,” built out of Cash’s words, is sort of doubly tragic now that Cornell himself, of course, has passed on. It’s an elegant, slow-building orchestral rocker with some folk and gospel overtones, and it’s a hell of a showcase for an inimitable voice. Check it out below.
Johnny Cash: Forever Words is out 4/6 on Legacy Recordings.