Johnny Cash would have celebrated his 78th birthday in February had he not died in September 2003. However, with the posthumous release of American VI, the sixth and final CD in Cash's "American Recordings" album series, he is more alive than Elvis. His crusty baritone, at once familiar and ghostly, haunts from beyond the grave.
Gone is the hard-partyin' Cash who "Walked the Line," or the born-again who sang "Folsom Prison Blues." In his place is a sage man contemplating his own impending demise. To simply suggest that American VI possesses a preoccupation with mortality would be an understatement. The entire album is obsessed with death, right down to the ethereal cover art.
The album begins with the song "Ain't No Grave," an ominous-sounding arrangement in which he repeatedly asserts, "There ain't no grave / can hold my body down." Other song titles like "Redemption Day," "Wonder Where I'm Bound," and "I Don't Hurt Anymore," hint at Cash's thought process. However, the true revelation is in the lyrics, which discuss a train to heaven's gate and the freedom that comes with escaping life's pain. Most songs on this 10-track disc were written by various artists, including Sheryl Crow, but are reconfigured in elemental Man-in-Black style.
In American VI, Cash communicates that he was without fear and ready for the end. His faith was clearly his greatest asset in his final days, as evidenced by the album's never-before-released original song "I Corinthians: 15:55." While it's nice to imagine that Cash exited this lifetime full of placid wisdom, the sadness that Cash lacked in death will instead be experienced by his fans listening to the last of his work.