Johnny Cash ‘American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave’ – Review

25 Feb

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly seven years since Johnny Cash was taken from us, one of the last genuine greats of popular music. It’s been four years since the release of ‘American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways’, something that is equally hard to believe. I can still remember the excitement and anticipation that greeted that album and the relief that was felt when it turned out to be a fitting final farewell to The Man in Black.

Only that wasn’t the final farewell. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the anticipation for ‘American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave’ that there was for the last album, in fact it’s release seems to have passed many by, meaning this probably won’t repeat the previous record’s feet of reaching number one. Nonetheless there will be many fans going crazy over the release of these songs, amongst the last Johnny recorded (including his very last recording ‘I Corinthians 15:55’)

Has the wait been worth it? Yes and no. The main problem, if you consider it a problem, is that there isn’t much here to distinguish the album from the other American Recordings. The other albums in the series have unique attributes, from the acoustic darkness of American I, to the band backed, country tinged American II and the melancholic American IV. However this album simply retreads the themes and sounds of the American V. The opening song, the title track, is strong enough in of itself; the problem is that it sounds almost identical to ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ from American V, without matching its power. ‘For The Good Times’ recalls ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ (and both songs are excellent) but his voice doesn’t bend and break in the same way. Nonetheless it includes some fitting final lines such as ‘Don’t look so sad, I know It’s over.’ The less you compare this album to the others the better it gets. As an individual piece of work this is cohesive, well sequenced and enjoyable.

Like the album that preceded it, ‘Ain’t No Grave’ lacks the quiet melodrama of earlier American Recordings but gains something from the simplicity and sadness. Johnny’s voice constantly feels close to cracking and the subtle arrangements compliment both his strengths and shortcomings. Despite his age and proximity to death his voice on ‘Cool Water’ sounds stronger than it has done in many years. It isn’t this consistent throughout but even when he is breaking up this legend could put anyone else in their place.

Johnny Cash has had more farewell songs than Lord of the rings had farewell scenes. There was his brilliant cover of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ on American IV that sounded like a last goodbye, and ‘I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now’ ended American V in a optamistic manner. But it seems the song that will really close Johnny’s recording career is ‘Aloha Oe’. Truth be told it doesn’t work as well as those other songs, it is a little relaxed and anticlimactic. It’ll do however, it’ll do.

‘Ain’t No Grave’ is a good album and a fitting final statement, if not as strong as the five other records in the series. American V seemed to be the perfect conclusion to the Johnny Cash story, and because of that, and the fact that this comes four years later, this record feels a bit redundant. It does nothing that the other album didn’t do, it simply repeats the themes in a less succesful manner. That said this is more than a pleasing record and there is nothing on here to taint Johnny’s name, nor spoil the work Rick Rubin has done in resurrecting his career. I am thrilled just to hear the results of these final sessions and am pleased that these songs do the man in black a great service.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: