Johnny Cash American VI: Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash American VI: Ain't No Grave
I hate the word "closure." I'd like to believe Johnny Cash did too, considering he continued to record right up until he drew his last breath on September 12, 2003. Then again, the notion of his life coming full circle is the underlying theme of this final instalment of the American series, Cash's revelatory collaboration with Rick Rubin that began in 1994. Unlike some of the other releases, Ain't No Grave is a collection of songs that, rather than lingering morbidly on the desire for redemption in the shadow of death, shows a man facing the inevitable with unwavering hope and dignity. Although that impression isn't quite evident from the opening, dirge-like title track, Cash transforms material such as Hank Snow's "I Don't Hurt Anymore," Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind" and Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times" into vivid ruminations on mortality. Such skill at revealing the true power of songs was Cash's greatest gift. At the same time, Ain't No Grave is the most mysterious of all the American albums. There's an overwhelming sense that none of us will truly understand the emotions Cash put into these performances until we too must face the end. What we can hear though is much like what the poet Philip Larkin once said: "What will survive of us is love." (American/Lost Highway/Universal)