Johnny Cash: Cash, American VI; Ain't No Grave (American)

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Johnny Cash: Satisfied Mind
Johnny Cash: Cash, American VI; Ain't No Grave (American)

In recent years I have been lecturing in contemporary music (rock'n'roll to hip-hop) and it has been an insight for me. After showing clips of a young and wild Elvis for example some students will come to me afterwards and express surprise: they only knew him from parodies as that boring fat guy.

History is reductive: it's necessary to remind people that Elvis was only a porker for the last few years; that peace loving John Lennon wrote one of the most vicious and nasty songs of his career on the Imagine album; that Kurt Cobain was once a really happy guy.

And because of the American series of late career Johnny Cash albums (now up to six, two of them posthumous) many might have the impression that Johnny was always this brooding Mount Rushmore figure who rumbled on about redemption, death and the gates of Heaven, a man who sang in metaphors and faced his Maker with a welcome, steely gaze.

The shit-kicker of his younger years -- despite the movie Walk the Line - plays a lesser part in the myth of Johnny Cash now.

And so this album, the last in the series we are told, finds him once again as we have come to expect: the title track is a traditional ballad about how the grave cannot hold him, there's a wonderful treatment of Kris Kristofferson's For the Good Times and right at the end a woobly but right version of Aloha Oe.

There is also his adaptation of a chapter from Corinthians, Tom Paxton's Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound and I Don't Hurt Anymore ("all my teardrops have died") which, given his condition, isn't so much a love song anymore but one about escaping from the bonds of life.

So this is another in that spare series of Rick Rubin-produced album where gravitas and grace are the over-riding qualities.

But increasingly I am uncomfortable that Johnny Cash has been embalmed as a man-mountain, an immovable object filled with rock-hard faith and one who towered above us lesser mortals. My guess is that he didn't see himself that way.

The clip below therefore isn't of that mythical figure. 

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