American VI: Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash

American, 2010

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


Like American V, American VI: Ain’t No Grave is a posthumous Johnny Cash release consisting of songs that Cash put to tape after the release of American IV in 2002. And with no little irony, a posthumous album named after Cash’s rendition of the traditional spiritual, “Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)" is a cold slap in the face seven years after his demise.

It is said that American VI will be the final installment in the American series. That is assuming that new tracks from that period are not dug up from somewhere. Unlike my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 American V, this album feels more like a collection of leftovers than a cohesive package of songs. This disc only contains 10 songs, making it feel a little short, and the final track of “Aloha Oe” really feels like a cast off. But the slide guitar and foot stomping invocations of “Ain’t No Grave” are moving, making it feel like something produced by T Bone Burnett. Cash sings with conviction, if with a wavering voice due his ailments, on “Redemption Day” and “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.”

Cash delves deep into the spiritual songs here.  In addition to the title track, his original “I Corinthians 15:55” with its refrain of the verse “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” holds deeper meaning since it is among the final songs from a man long gone.  “Satisfied Mind” has been knocking around in Southern and country gospel for decades, but given all the struggles that Cash had with addiction and finances, it sounds like an emotional autobiography. The wilting "Can't Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound" seems to inject that seed of doubt about the next stage of life. 

Considering how far Johnny Cash had slipped in his career during the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s, the American series completely rehabilitated his musical image. Without the American recordings, I don’t believe Cash would have nearly the amount of respect in the country music world as he now holds. His early hits are enduring, but Rick Rubin and American provided him a vehicle for his later original works and the artistic latitude to stretch beyond the boxes that he felt he was in while with Columbia and Mercury. Taken as a whole, the American series is an enduring, classic run of albums that will hold up just as well as his Sun and early Columbia albums do.

Rating: B-

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