The Man in Black did not fade. Now, more than six years after his death, "American VI: Ain't No Grave" (American Recordings/Lost Highway) arrives as spectacular proof.
True to the mythology that has risen around him, Johnny Cash never backed down - not even to death.
In his final days, Cash, along with collaborator-producer Rick Rubin and a small group of trusted musicians, sang about his life and his future. He transformed Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" into a thunderous warning with the power of his voice and delivery. He made Tom Paxton's "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" feel like a thank-you note. And Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes' "Satisfied Mind" takes on an air of defiance, a straightforward declaration that is nearly the opposite of Jeff Buckley's fluttery, otherworldly jazzy take. When Cash sings, "I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind," he means it.
Even more telling, though, is the Cash original "I Corinthians 15:55," where he makes the Bible verse - "O death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?" - feel like a taunt. It's stunning stuff made all the more impressive by the fact that it was recorded so shortly after his beloved wife June Carter Cash's death and so shortly before his own.
"Ain't No Grave" chronicles the end of Cash's legendary career, but it's so lovingly delivered that it sounds like the start of something new.
American VI: Ain't No Grave
BOTTOM LINE Inspirational, uplifting (really!) meditation on death