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Johnny Cash

American VI: Ain't No Grave – 2010 (Lost Highway/American)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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To say that this is the death knell from Johnny Cash would be an understatement. That was made clear by the aging, withering Man in Black when he recorded the title track with the opening words "There ain't no grave that can hold my body down." This CD surfaces seven years after the death of Cash and is said to be the final of a series of six CDs he recorded with ace producer Rick Rubin (he has worked with everyone from the Dixie Chicks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers), who helped lead a career resurrection for Cash starting with "American Recordings" in 1994.

Cash and Rubin recorded the 10 songs in Nashville with Cash's son John Carter Cash during a period ranging from the completion of "American IV: The Man Comes Around" in 2002 right up until Sept. 12, 2003 when Cash died.

Cash could be looking back on his career at some level on his reading of his friend Kris Kristofferson's love song For the Good Times with the lines " ." The instrumentation here and elsewhere is a bit more modern with light, acoustic guitar flourishes and keyboards underneath.

The themes of death, suffering and finality surface time again, including on the lone song he wrote, I Corinthians 15:55. An aging Cash sings "Oh death, where is thy sting?" But the song is not a downer for the religious Cash because he looks forward to seeing his redeemer beckoning. On Satisfied Mind, a song recorded by Porter Wagoner, Cash sings "When my life is ended, my time has run out / My trials and my loved ones, I'll leave them no doubt /But one thing's for certain, when it comes my time / I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind." Queen Lili'uokalani's Aloha Oe is a song of farewell. On the hopeful side, Cash tackles Ed McCurdy's Last Night I had the Strangest Dream about peace.

Cash's voice throughout isn't all that different from his other recordings during his latter years. It's clear and vibrant with any sort of smoothness, of course, while not holding any emotion. Swan song though it may be, it is Cash on his own terms - clear, honest, satisfied and unvarnished.