Release date: Feb. 23, 2010
Record label: Lost Highway/American
Official Web site: http://www.johnnycash.com/
The buzz: “Ain’t No Grave” collects Johnny Cash’s final recordings—sessions that Cash cited while working on them in 2003 as his main reason for staying alive. How’s that for buzz?
The verdict: We’ve learned the hard way to be skeptical about posthumous releases, but “Ain’t No Grave” provides a fitting close to Cash’s brilliant American Recordings catalog alongside producer Rick Rubin. Stripped of context, it’s no match for the best discs in the series, which offered up bold, surprising interpretations of Trent Reznor, Nick Cave, Will Oldham, et al. “Ain’t No Grave” is mostly comfort food—Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, the powerful old traditional that gives the collection its title—and Cash feasts on it with relish. His sickness haunts his vocals throughout, but though he sounds weary, he never sounds weak. Knowing that he is singing of death not as something down the road but at his door, it’s hard not to be affected by the gravity and, ultimately, peacefulness that permeates Cash’s final performances.
Did you know? There aren’t as many high-profile cameos on “Ain’t No Grave” as on the previous “American” records, but the Avett Brothers guest on the excellent title track.