American VI: Ain’t No Grave
No one wants to speak ill of the dead, especially a figure as revered as Johnny Cash, but with this latest album, the departed icon is really beginning to try one’s patience from beyond the grave. One album of these “I’m-Fixin’-to-Die” songs would have been enough, would have served as a sad, solemn and dignified farewell from an American icon. But, under the heavy hand of producer Rick Rubin, Cash recorded a surfeit of these “so long, it’s been good to know you” songs, all of them dependent on the listener’s keen awareness of the man’s impending doom. On these recordings, Cash’s voice is pretty much used up, and the creak and the croak of it, in small doses, fits with the tone of this sad farewell. But in larger doses, it begins to seem exploitive, maudlin, and over-the-top sentimental, a naked attempt to simply stir emotions, not on the strength of the songs or the performance, but by tapping into the listener’s sadness at the loss of Johnny Cash, American legend. Yes, death is sad, but this is getting sappy, and it begins to seem like someone was just cashing in on Cash’s cashing out.