Johnny Cash American VI: Ain't No Grave
CD Review by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter




March 2010
T rack listing:

Ain't No Grave
Redemption Day
For The Good Times
I Corinthians
Can't Help But Wonder
Where I'm Bound
Satisfied Mind
I Don't Hurt Anymore
Cool Water
Last Night I Had
The Strangest Dream
Aloha Oe

Label: Lost Highway
Release Date:
February 23, 2010

This is a dark record.

This is the voice of a legendary man looking death directly in the face. His deep lamenting voice will caress the hearts of those that are ready to say goodbye to a musical icon. If you want to clap your hands and set up a dance night with the girls in the office, find the latest Taylor Swift record.

The story goes as follows&

Producer Rick Rubin arranged for an engineer and guitar players to always be on call during the recording of this album. "Every morning, when he'd wake up, he would call the engineer and tell him if he was physically up to working that day," says Rubin. That's the situation that this set of songs was born from, and the mood and emotion of that dire time oozes from every note.

The swampy blues folk of the title cut kicks things off and lays the foundation for a musical fortress of faith, desperation, and death. As Cash sings "Ain't no grave can hold my body down," giant, shackled footsteps, complete with dragging chains are audible in the background. In regard to mood and tone, the song is reminiscent of Cash's rendition of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." The song is eerie and haunting, and sends the biggest chill on the disc, but it definitely isn't the only track with icy overtones. This disc is Dead Man Talking, and it's arguably Cash's most powerful set yet.

While the title track is a traditional, Cash taps the songwriting talents of Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow & many others to round out the 10 spine-tingling tunes of this set. Cash employs some great talent to carry out his swan songs, most notably longtime members of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell. But, as you listen to this disc, you can really feel the impact that producer Rick Rubin had on these sessions. He keeps all of this very raw and simple, and it ends up feeling very personal and intimate. At times, you can even hear Cash's voice waver a bit, but that's really the beauty of the whole thing. You get the feeling that if the soil beneath your feet, or the threads of the American flag could sing, they would sound like Johnny Cash.

Look for a somber tone on Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" that really fits perfectly here. And, as Cash sings "Don't look so sad, I know it's over" and "Let's just be glad we had some time to spend together" on Kristofferson's "For The Good Times," it's enough to rip your heart right out of your chest cavity. So much of this disc harnesses that kind of power. On "I Corinthians 15:55," the lone song on the disc written by Cash himself, he sings "Hope springs eternal just over the rise, as I see my redeemer beckoning me." Yeah&..

So much of this set is deep and introspective. Cash ends up telling us that he is ready to leave the Earth, and he is at peace with that. And now that he has gone, and we have this very special group of songs, Cash's voice seems to come from beyond the grave to create a beautifully thought out musical epitaph.

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