A terrific piece on Cash appeared in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, by the great critic Ann Powers.
Holding onto that chuckle was a key part of the remarkable feat Cash and Rubin accomplished over the ensuing decade. Loving the work, Cash recorded all kinds of songs -- funny ones, familiar ones, some he'd recorded before and others he never would have heard if not for his hip younger friends. The material matters; it was a blessing that Rubin kept Cash away from the soft rock of contemporary Nashville, and occasionally, the hipster connection worked magic. But the greater value of the American Recordings emerges through Cash and Rubin's unflinching attention to the details of his slowly failing instrument.
Many older singers just sound bad because they're still trying to present themselves as totally masterful. Cash didn't do that. He let in the cracks and the shortness of breath and the flatness. That's when the chuckle comes in, often silent but always pushing against the inherent drama of the songs and the moment. "Oh, well," you can almost hear Cash say, "I'm still singing."
Read the whole thing. You won't be sorry.