Johnny Cash | American VI: Ain’t No Grave (American)

The album’s overall sentiment, rendered in his wavering but still-powerful baritone, seems to be, “It’s alright, I’m ready.”

It’s impossible to listen to Johnny Cash’s American VI, the last in the seminal, Rick Rubin-produced series of albums devoted to filtering various American music through the icon’s signature sound, without being acutely aware that it is the last album of “new” material Cash would record before his death in 2003. That’s partially by design; the album’s subtitle is Ain’t No Grave, and the album artwork seems designed to convey the long span of Cash’s life. But, as is to be expected from Cash, it’s the songs themselves, in selection as well as execution, which offer keen insight into the thoughts of a man coming to the end of his long twilight.

And, as it turns out, for Cash that end was not to be feared or unduly wept over. The defiant, shuffling album opener, the traditional “Ain’t No Grave,” powered by stomping feet and the clinking of dragging chains, makes it clear that The Man In Black doesn’t see death as an ending at all. From there, American VI moves with purpose—but not, it should be noted, urgency—through a series of songs focused on mortality and the reservoir of faith Cash needed to view it with clear eyes and understated poetry.

From Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times” (Don’t look so sad/I know it’s over…let’s just be glad/we had some time to spend together) to the only Cash original on the album, “I Corinthians 15:55,” written in the time these recordings were made, and closing with the Hawaiian traditional “Aloha Oe,” American VI is a recorded last testament of a legend saying goodbye to the world he so deeply affected. The album’s overall sentiment, rendered in his wavering but still-powerful baritone, seems to be, “It’s alright, I’m ready.”  Good night, Johnny Cash, and thank you. A | John Shepherd

 

 

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