Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave

RIYL: Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson

“There ain’t no grave that can hold my body down.” So sings the Man in Black on the opening track of what we are assured is truly the final entry in his series of his Rick Rubin-helmed American Recordings albums. It’s been six years since his death, yet if there’s anyone you could believe would make good on such a lyric, it’s Johnny Cash. In that brief interim between losing his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, and losing his own battle against the health issues which had plagued him for several years, Cash entered the studio and cut the material on both this album and its predecessor (American V: A Hundred Highways), but while the sessions may have given him the opportunity to provide his own musical epitaph, listening to material like “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” and “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” serves first and foremost to reopen the old wound left by Cash’s demise. Only after getting past the sense of loss can one truly begin to appreciate American VI…and trust me when I tell you that it’s liable to take you a few spins to reach that point.

The stomping arrangement of the opening track, “Ain’t No Grave,” is immediately reminiscent of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” from American V, but it’s hard to argue with any song which could still give the ailing, mourning Cash the chance to come across as rebellious. From there, it’s into the only contemporary cover on the collection: Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day,” which becomes far more ominous and foreboding when being sung by a man who knows his days are numbered. Not that Cash himself was concerned about the inevitable: his take on Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” shows a man who was aware of how little time he had left on this planet. (“Don’t look so sad / I know it’s over / But life goes on / And this old world / Will keep on turning.”)

How Johnny Cash greeted the Grim Reaper

At 10 songs and a run time of just under 33 minutes, American VI is a succinct album…but, then, the best epitaphs are. It was a wise decision to save the more maudlin songs from Cash’s final sessions until several years after his death, as releasing them too quickly after his passing would’ve made them seem like a cheap stunt. In its current context, the record at least feels like the farewell that Cash almost certainly intended it to be, and it will no doubt inspire many a toast in his memory, particularly during the surprising yet somehow perfect closer, “Aloha Oe.” Unfortunately, however, it is so thoroughly defined as a farewell that it’s unlikely to earn the same number of repeat spins as the albums which preceded it. – (American Recordings / Lost Highway 2010)

Johnny Cash’s official website
Click to buy American VI: Ain’t No Grave from Amazon