This year marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of At Folsom Prison, a project representing one of the many ways Johnny Cash challenged commercial music’s conventional boundaries. Another example: Johnny Cash initially wanted to record religious music and managed to release a few early gospel tracks despite outright resistance from his first producer, Sam Phillips. Much later, Rick Rubin embraced Cash’s interest in religious themes and gave him broad creative license. While both producers intended to sell Cash to a rock audience, Rick Rubin had a more relaxed interpretation of rock’s relationship to gospel music and provided Cash much wider creative latitude.
This talk will focus on a pivotal song, “The Man Comes Around”. We’ll use high-level audio attributes derived from machine learning and spectrum analysis to measure the audible distance between it and gospel music on either side of Cash’s discography. Clustering the two groups with The Man as the fulcrum, we’ll visualize the extent to which modern music has reinterpreted the rock genre and expanded its sensibility.