Holy shit...this was much harder than I expected. It wasn't due to the musical styling of Mr. Cash though. The album wasn't the trouble. It was time, and let me tell you, time was not on my side. This entire project (the blog, I mean) originally seemed easy and exciting. I had the silly notion that reconnecting myself with music as an art form would be as easy as riding a bike...not the case. Or maybe it is, but my supposed "bike" is broken.
The first sign of trouble was when I managed to get sick for a week. Then, family showed up. And with family, came the lack of time to myself. Thus, Johnny had to wait.
Once all of the distractions had vanished, I found myself sitting on the sofa, staring at the album cover for American VI: Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash. As I stared and tried desperately to focus on the sounds coming out of my record player, my mind defiantly wandered away. Obviously I had underestimated this task. At this moment I realized that not only had society transformed the way I view music, but it had completely transformed my attention span too. The journey to reconnect with audible art is going to be a long one.
On to the review...
First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Three favorite songs on album:
"Ain't No Grave"
"I Don't Hurt Anymore"
"Ain't No Grave" opens the album with a melancholy and eerie start. The sound of banjos and chains dance around the religious lyrics about death and afterlife. After a few tracks pass by, I notice a theme...death.
Nine out of ten songs on this album are covers. The single song that Cash wrote is entitled "I Corinthians 15:55." Is it coincidence that its subject matter is death? Upon doing a bit of research, I find out that American VI: Ain't No Grave is the last installment of the "American" series which Rick Rubin (producer of Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and Johnny Cash produced together. Since Cash died before production was complete, Rubin selected a sample of Cash's final recordings for this album and masterfully set the stage for the listener to fully engage with Cash one last time. It seems as though Cash knew his life would end before production was complete. Perhaps it's in the sincerity with which he sings specific lyrics such as "O Death, where is thy sting / O Grief, where is thy victory / O Life, you are a shining path / And hope springs eternal, just over the rise / When I see my redeemer beckoning me."
Cash's voice isn't as boisterous and bold as it used to be. The harshness, and slightly cocky tone I once heard (and loved) is now replaced with age, heartache and honesty. He seems almost desperate to convey the message of these last songs to us. At this point in his life, Cash has faced the loss of his wife and the true brutality of aging. These factors seem to have dampened his spirit, but not his will. With each new song that plays, I still feel that same vibe as the first time I heard one of his songs. He is classic, timeless and never failing...even in the face of death.
The final song on the album is "Aloha Oe," which has never sounded so beautiful or haunting. It is the perfect final resting place for the life long career of a legend.
I imagine that Cash had nothing to do with the packaging of this album due to the fact that he had already died before it was produced so no credit is due there. Regardless of that fact, the album is striking.
The single, faded, black and white image of Cash as a young child is brilliant and simple. The only other item on the front of the album is the bold, sans serif "CASH." No more explanation is needed.
The inset is stark, black and white with just a few images and the track listing. One of my favorite parts of this packaging is the back. It's a single grainy image of Cash looking through a window...older, sullen and withered.
There is a small insert of what appears to be hand written lyrics (and an image of a leathery hand) for the single song that Cash wrote for this album.
The Kills, Keep On Your Mean Side (2003)