Sunday, March 28, 2010

Johnny Cash aka The Man In Black

'Ain't no grave gonna bring me down.' Amen Johnny Cash. If he were still alive, he'd definitely be making music. Even during his final months in 2003, he still pressed on writing and recording songs, despite his wife's June Carter's death that same year. Johnny Cash had possibly the best comeback of any artist in music history. From the 90's onwards, he worked with Rick Rubin to craft the now legendary American Series. In additon, The Unearthed box set makes you realise how creative his last decade of his life was. Not only did he do traditional songs, he also covered songs from different genres, including Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, U2, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Hank Williams and many others. He also worked with some of the best session musicians around, and also used Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as his backing band on Unchained. And finally not forgetting the duets he did with other great musicians, including Joe Strummer (my favorite Redemption Song), Nick Cave, Carl Perkins, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell.

Everything Johnny Cash touched became gold. There's just a way about his singing; he takes someone else's song and turns it into his, something that's incredibly hard to achieve in music today. One great example is taking a loud grunge song like Rusty Cage and transforming it into an alt-country sounding song. Believe me, this cover is totally fucking different from the original.

Anyway, his latest posthumous release is perhaps the last in the series, Vol. 6, appropriately titled Ain't No Grave. I was surprised there was still some more stuff in the vault. But this collection of ten songs stands shoulder to shoulder with his previous American releases. I shall not delve into the lyrical and musical content of the songs, but one of the standout tracks is his own interpretation of a bible passage. Seriously, only a person like Johnny Cash can do this. Anyone else singing off from the bible only spells cheesiness.

Personally for me, listening to Johnny Cash is like listening to God; not in the Christian sense, but someone who's been through the worst things imaginable, and has survived to tell the tale.