Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Post Rock Archive  |  About the Bloggers  |  E-mail: Click Track  |  On Twitter: Click Track  |  RSS Feeds RSS

Album review: Johnny Cash, "American VI: Ain't No Grave"

Johnny CashThe last volume of the "American Recording" series presents the late Cash as an unwavering man of faith. (REUTERS/Martyn Atkins)

By Bill Friskics-Warren

One of the most moving moments at Johnny Cash's funeral at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., 6 1/2 years ago was when the Fisk Jubilee Singers offered their stirring rendition of the old gospel song "Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)." As the raised voices of the chorus sent a surge of spiritual voltage through the sanctuary, they testified to Cash's unshakable conviction that nothing - not sickness or suffering, not even death - could separate him from the God he embraced during his lifetime.

"Ain't No Grave" is also the title track of the sixth - and final - volume in the series of unvarnished "American Recordings" that Cash made with producer Rick Rubin. Yet here, sounding a weary but no less resolute note, his craggy vocals are accompanied by mournful strains of banjo and slide guitar that evoke not glory but the perils along life's way. "Meet me, Jesus, meet me / Meet me in the middle of the air / And if these wings don't fail me / I will meet you anywhere," he vows in a trembling baritone. On the offbeats, trudging feet and drum rolls echo the steps of a pilgrim steadfastly marching on.

(A spiritual, even biblical quality, after the jump.)

Not surprisingly for a man of faith confronting his mortality, there's a spiritual, even biblical quality to the record. A bittersweet version of Tom Paxton's "Can't Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound," for example, takes on added poignancy when heard from the standpoint of someone about to pass from life into death.

Similarly, when Cash declares "I don't hurt anymore" on a rippling cover of the old Hank Snow hit of that name, it's no longer the profession of a lover whose heart has mended. It's the cry of someone who has endured great pain anticipating what it will be like to cross safely to life's other side. When, in his valedictory take of "For the Good Times," Cash tenderly urges, "Don't look so sad, I know it's over / But life goes on, and this old world keeps on turning," he extends a word of comfort to those who remain behind.

This being the Man in Black, there's also no shortage of solidarity with people struggling on life's margins. "I've wept for those who suffer long," he mourns, his voice remarkably steady, on Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day." And he turns "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," the whimsical old folk ballad, into a lullaby. Cash's vocals here almost sound soothing enough to induce the world's powers, per the song's lyrics, "to put an end to war."

More than anything, though, "Ain't No Grave" presents the Man in Black as an unwavering man of faith. In the gently triumphant "I Corinthians 15:55," a previously unrecorded original, he asks, "O death, where is thy sting? / O grave, where is thy victory?" Then, with the confidence of one who trusts that soon, he indeed won't be hurting anymore, he adds, "O life, you are a shining path / And hope springs eternal just over the rise / When I see my redeemer beckoning me."

Recommended tracks: "Ain't No Grave," "I Corinthians 15:55," "I Don't Hurt Anymore"

By David Malitz  |  February 23, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: Johnny Cash  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Singles file: Beach House, Beyonce, Jeff Buckley
Next: Album review: Joanna Newsom, "Have One on Me"


Malitz, I understand using the funeral to frame your review, but isn't it a touch odd to pass a subjective judgement on a funeral that you (I'm assuming) didn't attend? The statement seems as tossed off as if you were saying "the last time Johnny Cash played in DC ..."

Posted by: M__N | February 23, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Oops, I confused who posted it with who who wrote it. That said I still question if Mr. Friskics-Warren did indeed attend the funeral, or if he just used the album's press release, which I would bet mentioned the singers at the funeral.

Posted by: M__N | February 23, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I indeed attended Cash's funeral. The press materials that accompanied his new record didn't say anything about the service or the music that was part of it.

Bill Friskics-Warren

Posted by: bfwarren | February 23, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Fair play, then.

Posted by: M__N | February 24, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company