i picked up johnny cash's "american vi: ain't no grave" on wednesday. the fifth and final instalment of cash's american series was posthumously released on tuesday - 3 days before what would have been his 78th birthday (today). the songs were recorded in 2003, in months before cash's death. material from the approximately 50 songs recorded during those sessions was released in 2006's "american v: a hundred highways."
while the "hundred highways" material was recorded early in those sessions, the songs on "ain't no grave" were recorded in the months following the death of his wife, june carter cash, in may 2003. the producer, rick rubin, noted the cash said recording was the main reason keeping him alive. among the 10 songs on the album, he covers sheryl crow's "redemption day" and kris kristofferson's "for the good times." his one original song on the album of covers and traditional material was "i corinthians 15:55."
surprisingly, and at cash's own insistence, the final song on the album is "aloha oe" - a bright end to an otherwise serious set of music contemplating the end of life. almost every song is wrought with knowledge of cash's impending death. yet none of them is in any way morose or maudlin in it's approach to the lyrics. especially worth noting is his take on "i don't hurt anymore," whose lyrics are of a relationship gone bust. one can't help but appreciate that cash sings about the breakup, but he himself is about to depart the world of the living.
with the real end of life drama that foreshadows the song selection, the upbeat and gracious "aloha oe" (roughly, "until we meet again") is a remarkable close to the album - and, while not literal - to cash's life. for a man who sings a number of potentially dark songs intended to confront mortality, he selected one that lightly reaffirmed the vitality of life - his life and ours - to bid us adieu. "ain't no grave" is a fitting coda to his "american" series - don't pass it up.
happy birthday in heaven, johnny cash - 78 years old today :D