epitaph for the Man in Black.
By Lee Zimmerman
One would think that six volumes into Johnny Cash’s final
series of recordings and nearly six and a half years after his passing, the
well would have run dry on leftover output… at least in terms of quality
material. Happily, that’s not the case here, although like those efforts that
preceded it, there’s a veil of doubt and uncertainty – make that despair and
pessimism – that hang over these proceedings like a dark shroud. Cash’s
preoccupation with death and reflection continues to occupy every note and
nuance, his parched vocals informing each of these dark, dire laments.
Of course, hearing American
VI: Ain’t No Grave (American
Recordings/Lost Highway) in retrospect (even its
title proves haunting) following the loss of Johnny and his beloved June in
such close proximity proves but knowing and revelatory. Indeed, that destiny patiently waited even as
he toiled towards the inevitable end.
As a result, much could be made of the somber, sobering
traditional title track, the cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day” and his
read of Tom Paxton’s “Where I’m Bound,” particularly as conveyed from the
viewpoint of one who knows he’s staring at death straight on. Other songs veer only slightly (a lovely
version of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” and his own “1
Corinthians” in particular), but still maintain that spectral aura in the
sparse settings dictated by producer Rick Rubin.
Likewise, a small contingent of craft-conscious musicians —
Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell and the Avett Brothers, among them – provides
supple support. All told, Ain’t No Grave provides Cash with
another brilliant epitaph.