American VI: Ain’t No Grave – Johnny Cash | CD review

(American/Universal) 3 stars

I approached this CD with misgivings. The `American’ series started out in 1993 as an unlikely partnership between Johnny Cash and producer Rick Rubin.

Their five albums, recorded over the decade up to Cash’s death in 2003, aged 71, contained some of the veteran singer’s finest performances.

He would have turned 78 last month, which ostensibly is the rationale for now releasing `American VI: Ain’t No Grave’.

It arrives four years after `American V: A Hundred Highways’, billed at the time as his “final’’ recording, which stretches credulity.

And at 32 minutes, the 10 new tracks measure up to just half a modern CD’s worth.

The songs were recorded during those final 2003 sessions, when illness had sapped Cash’s lung power.

Yet for all that, there’s no disputing the fact that his interpretations remain remarkably potent, their impact undiminished.

Mortality is a recurring theme, from the haunting title track and Tom Paxton’s `Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’ to Cheryl Crow’s `Redemption Day’ and Cash’s own evocation of the New Testament epistle `I Corinthians 15:55’.

He closes with the popular Hawaiian `Aloha Oe’, a song that in anyone else’s hands would be pure schmaltz.

Yet Cash’s rendition  enhanced by the slack-key work of ex-Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel – is disarmingly simple: the perfect, gentle farewell.

- Mike Daly

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