American VI: Ain't No Grave, the latest album to come out of Johnny
Cash's years-long collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, was released
earlier this week. Cash, who died in 2003, recorded Ain't No Grave in
the last few months of his life. The recording is rumored to be the final album
in Rubin's acclaimed American series. New Johnny Cash music is never a
bad thing, but critics can't quite agree whether the
record serves as a fitting capstone to the country legend's career.
- Yes: Lets Cash Say Goodbye on His Own Terms The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps
praises Ain't No Grave unequivocally, noting that the album was
"recorded at least partly after the death of Cash's wife, June Carter
Cash, as his sight dimmed and his own body failed him for the last time
... But as usual, Cash uses his Christian faith as the ultimate
rebuttal to life's disappointments. 'Ain't no grave gonna hold my body
down,' Cash sings, as the musical setting of the traditional title
track sounds ominous tones. Hope was his last act of defiance."
- Yes: Turns Away From Gloom and Doom In a thoughtful Rolling Stone review, Jody Rosen opines, "There were times that the
American Recordings series veered uncomfortably close to what might be
called morbidity kitsch, with black-and-white cover art and production,
full of tolling bass-piano notes, that overplayed the doomy
impending-mortality vibe. You can hear that Cash is closing in on the
end on Ain't No Grave ... And yet he is unmistakably sprightly and
alive, delivering each song with a master-vocal stylist's gift for
phrasing ... As for death, he sounds ready, not haunted."
- Yes: Uneven but Ends on a Grace Note Yahoo! Music's Garry Mulholland isn't enamored of every cut, complaining that "a strong first act becomes a sagging middle-bit," but finds that the record's last track, a knowing cover of Aloha Oe, succeeds in "undercutting all the portentous symbolism that we've projected upon a man who, when all is said, done and demystified, just sang some songs, took some drugs, got clean, and sang a few more songs."
- No: More a Showcase for Rubin Than Cash Pitchfork's Stephen Duesner
swims against the tide of praise, griping that "Rubin comes across as
deeply sentimental and fashions Ain't No Grave-- rumored to be the
final installment in the series-- as a tearjerker ... Ain't No Grave
isn't really Cash's farewell as much as it is Rubin's memorial mixtape."
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