Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Francis Morrin

Mmm, another Johnny Cash from the American Recordings series? Sounded more like Cashing in to me when I first heard that a new CD from the left over recordings was on its way – even though the label does clearly state that this is the last release from this material. However, I knew I’d still want to pick it up when the release date came. Unusually, the release happened earlier in Europe than in the USA so when the appointed day came, I trotted down to HMV to pick it up (the release state side, on February 26, was chosen to coincide with Cash’s birthday – and for the vinyl lovers, it will be available on vinyl too).

The material for this album was recorded during May 2003, less than 4 months before Cash died, a time during which Cash’s wife, June Carter died. The producer, Rick Rubin, has quoted Cash as saying that recording the songs were what kept him going. Using virtually the same team for both the music and production (Rick Rubin) as for the last few instalments of the series, I had a fair idea of what to expect – and I was not disappointed.

So the album is made up a variety of material, upbeat and downbeat, spiritual and earthly, forward-looking and reminiscent. The songs are not as immediately recognisable as those included on American V – but are all strong nonetheless. I was kind of expecting Johnny to sound a little more raspy and broken sounding, so I was quite surprised to hear how strong he sounded throughout the album. To be honest, I feel that American V is more loaded with pathos and sentiment than this offering – on replaying American V even his voice sounds more broken and emotional. Having said that, there are a couple of absolute gems on this album – a personal favourite is “Redemption day”, originally penned by Sheryl Crow. In the more traditional theme, “Cool water” fits right into the Cash archive. There also is the never-before-released Cash penned “I Corinthians 15:55”, a song that also beautifully fits the feel and theme of American V and VI. In a nod to long-time friend and almost contemporary, Kris Kristofferson, “For the Good Times” earns a place on the album, with Cash giving a fine rendition. The albums ends with the farewell song “Aloha Oe” – a beautiful end to the album, and also the the American Recordings series.

So is it worth the purchase price? The answer I feel is an emphatic “yes” – this not just a padded release, nor for the completists only. No,no,  this one is a keeper, a fitting end to the American Series, which thank God Rubin thought to start back in the mid 1990′s. Its hard to believe that after so many fallow years, Johnny Cash would produce such stunning work in his last years, but that is exactly what he did. This release is a fitting reminder of the man and his music.