They’re a very rare species: Those music artists whose legacy transcends all genres.
Johnny Cash, The Man in Black, is at the top of that list of rare species. His legions of followers weren’t limited to the Country music genre; They were as diverse as you could find – from hip-hop to gospel, as well as everything in between and everything beyond.
Today, Friday, February 26th, would have been Johnny’s 78th birthday. The day is celebrated with the release of a new album of Cash’s final recordings, American VI: Ain’t No Grave. It’s a collection of 10 songs amongst those that Johnny recorded following the death of his beloved wife, June Carter Cash. As always, the music on this new album showcases Johnny’s commanding baritone voice, which by this time in his life was a bit frail. However, you’re still able to hear the strength and authority that his voice always seemed to command throughout the years.
It’s that same strength and authority that makes the lyrics to the songs on this album resonate even more powerfully. “Ain’t no grave”, “redemption day”, “I don’t hurt anymore”, “I Corinthians 15:55”, and “can’t help but wonder where I’m bound” all bring the impression of a man at a crossroads (or the end of his life) with his head held high, and ready for whatever fate comes his way. The songs are all backed with a sparse instrumentation, making the sound even more raw and fitting in well with his voice.
Redemption Day is a song by Sheryl Crow, which she had on her self-titled album in 1996. After hearing Sheryl’s version many, many times throughout the years, I’m pleased to note that Johnny’s version is also quite striking.
Listen to Redemption Day
Cool Water is a song that I associate with the Sons of the Pioneers, as it was their vinyl record from my dad’s collection that I’d play many times growing up. Other classics which I grew up on that are covered in this album include For the Good Times, and Satisfied Mind. It’s great to hear Johnny’s voice on them this time around.
I Corinthians 15:55 is a Cash original, and shows that he never lost his musical writing touch.
Aloha Oe is a surprising close to this compilation. One wouldn’t think of the legend of Cash going off with a Hawaiian farewell, yet after listening to the full album, I realize that it is indeed the perfect picture of Johnny’s farewell: the Man in Black going off into the sunset.
Listen to Aloha Oe