Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cash delivers parting message with "Ain't No Grave"

Genre: Country
American Recordings/Lost Highway
Running Time: 32:23

In 1994, Johnny Cash was looking to resurrect his career. After dominating the American music landscape for the three previous decades, Cash was faced with a major lack of support throughout most of the 80s. Then came Rick Rubin, and the beginning of the American Recording series.

This year saw the release of the sixth and (supposedly) final installment in the series, American VI: Ain't No Grave. Cash's American Recordings have become famous for its stripped down approach - most songs feature just Johnny and his acoustic guitar. After the release of American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2002, Cash began recording material for one final album.

Following his death in 2003, that material was released on American V: A Hundred Highways and now on his latest album, American VI: Ain't No Grave. Fans of Cash will not be disappointed; here is an opportunity to hear the man in fine form for one final time.

If you're familiar with Cash's past few American Recording albums, you'll know what to expect. Music or style wise, he hasn't changed it up very much. Most of the album is cover songs, but he makes them his own with his mournful voice and acoustic guitar. It's a true spectacle.

Cash is known for covering songs from many different genres; some of these include The Beatles "In My Life" Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and most famously, Nine Inch Nails "Hurt." Here, Cash sticks mostly to Country, Western, and Folk material.

It seems almost every song contains some type of life lesson. Ed McCurdy's "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" is a hymn to ending war; Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind" warns that money isn't everything; Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" teaches us to appreciate life's finer moments.

There are also major spiritual elements present on the past few Cash albums, and those pop up again here. The title track sees Cash fully prepared to meet his savior. The haunting melody, coupled with Scott Avett's banjo performance make this song the centerpiece of the album. Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" is a thoughtful track that looks forward to the next world.

There is one Cash original, "I Corinthians 15:55." The lyrics portray Johnny as a ship captain, sailing into eternity. The Bible passage to which the title refers is quoted in the chorus. I found it a nice touch.

American VI: Ain't No Grave will stand as one of Cash's most introspective albums. It's very somber in tone, and as a result, perhaps lacks some of the variety that his previous albums had.

There's no hint of Cash's grit or humor that was seen on tracks like "Delia's Gone" or "Tennessee Stud" from the first American Recordings album. There aren't any real upbeat tracks, like "Sam Hall" or anything with the groove of "Like the 309," both from American V: A Hundred Highways.

Though perhaps this is what gives American VI: Ain't No Grave its identity.

It's a touching, poetic, and revelatory piece of work. Cash knew his time was short when he made these recordings. This was his final message to the world.

Check out these tracks:

Ain't no Grave
For the Good Times
I Corinthians 15:55

Lyric to use as your Facebook status:

Oh let me sail on
With my ship to the East
And keep my eye on the North Star
When the journey is no good for man or for beast
I'll be safe wherever you are

Score: 83/100

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