There’s not too many muscians I would put the “genius” label on, but Johnny Cash is one of them – and is arguably at the top of the list.
Seven years after his death and on the week of Cash’s would-be 78th birthday, producer Rick Rubin and Lost Highway Records have released the final chapter in this beautifully haunting American series.
American VI: Ain’t No Grave is short, only 10 songs and 32 minutes, and was recorded at the same session of 2006’s American V: A Hundred Highways, with legendary gutiarist Mike Campbell, Matt Sweeney, Smokey Hormel, and Benmont Tench on keyboards.
The time period of these recording sessions was during the decline of Cash’s health and when he lost his long-time soulmate, June Carter Cash, who passed away during a surgical procedure.
Anyone who knows the story of Cash and his wife knows it was a rocky beginning, but through thick and thin, the two legendary muscians had a bond and a love for each other that could not be matched. The death of June shook Cash to his core, and he never really recovered. Cash kept on with the recording sessions that would eventually become the final two chapters in the American series.
Struggling with his own health, Cash knew it wasn’t long before he would join his wife in the afterlife, and this transcended into his vocals. You can hear not only the pain and sadness in his voice – you can feel it as well.
Cash shows he still has fight in the opening track, which is the title tack. In “Ain’t No Grave” Cash challenges death, stares it straight in the face and doesn’t back down. He takes the Brother Claude Ely-penned song and makes it his own, especially considering the circumstances of his life at the time. This song starts the album off in the classic country
gospel tradition Cash cut his teeth on.
In the third track, Cash summons up old buddy Kris Kristofferson and covers “For the Good Times.” The track’s first lines are “Don’t look so sad, I know its over/But life goes on/and this ole world will keep on turning.” The grace and poise in his voice tears at your heart.
The lone Cash original on the record is “I Corinthians 15:55.” Again, the singer harkens back to his country gospel roots and, with ideal melody, keeps his faith strong.
There is no doubt that Cash lived a full, impressive life, and he evokes that on the Tom Paxton original “Wonder Where I’m Bound.” The way Cash delivers the lines is more of a reflection of good times, not questioning where his life will go after he passes.
Cash keeps that faith alive in covering the traditional Don Robertson and Jack Rollins “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.” Cash convinces you that he is over the pain and struggles he had in his earlier days. He has gotten over all his wrong doings and feels at ease with himself and is ready to move on.
Cash does move on on the record and on the final track couldn’t be more flawless as he belts out Queen Liliuokalani’s traditional Hawaiian ballad “Aloha Oe.” Knowing of his struggles at the time of this recording and the life Cash led, this is the perfect ending not only to the album, but to Cash’s recording career. It will bring tears to your eyes.
Three months after these recording sessions were finished, Cash lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease, but left us with one last diamond in his storied music career. Johnny Cash will never been forgotten in music and American VI: Ain’t No Grave just shows how much of a muscial genius Cash was until his dying day.
Rest in peace John R. Cash, you are dearly missed.