Resolved and unafraid

Check out Johnny Cash’s latest, <i>American VI: Ain’t No Grave</i>, at <a href="http://www.johnnycash.com/">www.johnnycash.com</a>.

Check out Johnny Cash’s latest, American VI: Ain’t No Grave, at www.johnnycash.com.

On the opening track of the late Johnny Cash’s newest CD, the singer’s voice is as weary as you’d expect from someone haunting us from the afterlife.

“There ain’t no grave that can hold my body down,” Cash sings on “American Grave.”

It’s more a plea than a declaration.

American VI: Ain’t No Grave is the second posthumous release for the iconic country music star, who died in 2003. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album covers much of the same themes and sounds as Cash’s previous Rubin collaborations, but here the tone is even more sober, more reflective. The songs, largely recorded during Cash’s last studio sessions, focus on mortality and the idea that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

The album’s best tracks are its two extremes. On the Cash-penned “1 Corinthians 15:55,” he sings about meeting his “redeemer … beckoning.” It’s mournful but imbued with a wide-eyed sense of purpose. In contrast, Cash’s take on “Aloha Oe,” the traditional Hawaiian ballad, is so sweet and optimistic it’s hard to believe it’s performed by a man on the verge of leaving.

And that’s the beauty here. Yes, Johnny Cash sounds like he’s staring down death, but he also sounds resolved and unafraid.