You might have thought that Cash’s last recordings from the sessions with Rick Rubin were completed with ‘American V’ and the subsequent ‘Unearthed’ box set; this however is not the case. You might also expect that the sixth instalment of the American series would be a bottom of the barrel scraping of the remnants this is also categorically not true. The 10 songs that complete this album were recorded just four months before Cash’s death and around the time his wife June Carter Cash passed away. ‘American VI’ is scheduled to be the end of the American series as acknowledged by Rubin in the notes that this is where his involvement in the Johnny Cash catalogue ends.
Once again much like the previous album death seems to be a permanent feature to these songs, the difference this time however appears to be the fact that it’s Cash’s own nearing mortality, rather than the emotional trauma of his wife’s passing, which seems to haunt them. “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down,” sings Cash on the first and title-track, the arrangement suggests otherwise however as the song takes the demeanour of a funeral march, slow and calculated with banjo underpinned by organ and a few piano chords. Elsewhere, he seems to be peaceably reconciled to the idea of his own frailty, as he sings “There’s a train, That’s heading straight, To Heaven’s gate” on an amazing version of Sheryl Crow’s ‘Redemption Day’, in which Cash’s voice has become husky and almost seems to fade. Ultimately this album isn’t about tearful goodbyes; instead it’s more about welcome departures and happy endings. A cover of Tom Paxton’s ‘Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound’ finds a lifelong wanderer contemplating the end of his road, and ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’ imagines a life without anguish. Queen Liliuokalani’s famous Hawaiian farewell ‘Aloha Oe’ might seem to be an odd choice of a cover to effectively end the recording career of Cash, especially one that has spanned well over half a century. Cash however turns it into an apt summary of what’s come before, a fond remembrance of life’s pleasures. Aloha means goodbye, it also means love, mercy, and compassion all of which are values that Johnny Cash treasured. It also has boasts one final poignant moment, found in the last words on the album, ‘Until we meet again’ delivered with all the conviction he could muster in the end.
When cash sings ‘Ain’t no grave can hold my body down’ it of course isn’t literal as it’s not Cash’s body that survives, it is his legacy that survives, his music and his lingering stature as a giant of American music. The songs on the album are beautifully arranged, meaningfully sung and staggeringly powerful, ‘American VI’ is every most definitely Cash’s final, life-affirming masterpiece.
1. Ain’t No Grave
2. Redemption Day
3. For The Good Times
4. I Corinthians 15:55
5. Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound
6. Satisfied Mind
7. I Don’t Hurt Anymore
8. Cool Water
9. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
10. Aloha Oe
Stand Out Tracks:-
‘Ain’t No Grave’, ‘Redemption Day’, ‘Aloha Oe’