American VI: Ain't No Grave By Johnny Cash
It’s always somewhat irking when big record companies feel the need to keep releasing albums from stars who have passed away. Sure, it’s nice that the fans get to have more of their collection to listen to, but there often seems to be a morbid sort of cynicism underlying such releases. And because of the theme and songs on Johnny Cash’s new album, that is perhaps nowhere as true as it is on this release - American VI: Ain’t No Grave.
Except for one song, the album is actually a collection of covers coming from artists as diverse as Sheryl Crow and Kris Kristofferson and reaching back to ancient Hawaiian folk tunes. Cash’s ability to make these songs his own in very beautiful ways should be praised, but what’ll catch your ear before this is how haunting it is to hear him singing about death, graves and being satisfied at the end of your life - the topics are what’ll stick in your mind long after the CD is finished playing.
This starts right from the first, title track, where Cash’s first words are “There ain’t no grave can hold my body down”. It’s an eerie song that has footsteps and chains providing the backbeat to the quite anthem about overcoming life’s adversity and living in forever.
Cash’s interpretation of Sheryl Crow’s song “Redemption Day” sums up much of the album by showing how Cash can communicate an enormous amount of emotion through a very stripped-down musical style. It’s fitting because singing about “a train headed straight to heaven’s gate” would sound out of place done with anything other than his light acoustic guitar and strings accompaniment.
The only non-cover song on the album (although not an original either) is Cash’s singing of “I Corinthians 15:55.” He’s turned it into a lilting lullaby that seems to lay listeners, and, hopefully Cash himself too, down to rest peacefully.
“Satisfied Mind,” “Last Night I had The Strangest Dream,” and “Aloha Oe” are also incredibly effective songs.
There are no real happy tunes on this album, but it’s not a depressed record either. They all have a feeling of relaxed resignation and closure. And hopefully, since this is said to be the last release from Cash and the last in his American collection, he too can relax now. American VI: Ain’t No Grave is a beautiful musical landmark for such a prominent and accomplished performer.
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