Taking cues from Madonna, the chic have now adopted the image of the Western. In the same vein as the neo-cowboy fashion trend comes the rush of musical Alt-Country acts, all eager to pay homage to legends like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash while rejecting the bouffant-and-sequins of Nashville.

Wading through some of these new selections, one ponders whether an aging master like Johnny Cash might offer a brand of country more heartfelt and edgy than any youngster in his field.

Cash has survived thirty-some-odd years in the business and enough addictions to start his own clinic. His newest release, American IV: The Man Comes Around offers up a marvelous assortment of gems, time-tested covers, and… Nine Inch Nails? Fiona Apple pipes in luscious harmonies on the cover, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” though the song quickly loses pace.

Cash bookends with religious references and covers the Depeche Mode hit “Personal Jesus” with a swinging beat. The ride continues through the Scottish theme “Johnny Boy” and closes neatly with “We’ll Meet Again,” offering listeners an upbeat promise from the man who once sang, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”

Rhett Miller, former lead vocalist for the Old 97s (named for a hit Cash song) stumbles on his second solo effort, The Instigator. It only takes a few moments to realize that this is far from the rough-and-tumble twang even the mildest country fan seeks. Haunting resurrections of the Gin Blossoms surface out of Miller’s ultra-emo voice as he suffocates the listener with gooey love ballads in “Your Nervous Heart.” His solo work pales in comparison to the Old 97s, who rocked, rolled, and twanged heartily.

Miller should stop and take a good listen to Cash, who has perfected original country music to the point where he now feels free to traipse across whatever musical terrain he pleases. In the meantime, acts like Miller need to sharpen their spurs and sit down for a long, hard lesson.

[Jessica Jardine shot a man in Reno just because she wanted to kill him.]