Artist: Johnny Cash
I have to say this is one of those instances where a cover handily beats the original. In this case the song is Sting’s, from his fifth studio album, 1996’s Mercy Falling. Fast-forward to 2002 and The Man Comes Around, the fourth release in Johnny Cash’s famed American series and the final one released in his lifetime. By virtue of its disciplined, bare-bones distillation, the late great troubadour simply destroys the original version. The song is so gravely elemental it’s almost impossible to imagine it in any other form; Sting’s fine lyrics take on a staggering significance through Cash’s austere delivery. With Rick Rubin’s masterful production, this song about the cruelties of chance, the fragility of life, infinite remorse and horribly final penalties takes on profound depth. But in the end Cash’s telling of the tale feels like he’s always owned the song.