Review Summary: One of the most haunting and prophetic albums I have ever heard.
Johnny Cash was always a "Dark" musician when it came to his music. A lot of that darkness was mostly in his personality, and it was also expressed in his music from time to time. However, the freedom that Rick Rubin gave Mr. Cash during the American series allowed Cash to embrace the darkest pits of his musical artistry. Nothing could have prepared me for this, however.
It's almost as if Johnny knew he was going to die before these collections of songs were released. The album starts off with Ain't No Grave
one of the oldest Southern Gospel songs dating back to the 1930's. Normally, the song is a bit more uplifting, but that doesn't stop Cash. He busts out with a creepy banjo and his raspy, aged, voice; all the while the sounds of chains echo throughout the song. The whole thing creeps me out to no end as he sings of Gabriel to meet him in Heaven, contrasted to walking chains. It's as if he wants to go to Heaven, but he feels his spirit is forever condemned to chains of pain.
and For The Good Times
feature some of the best guitar work of Cash's American series, and are great covers of two already great songs. The real treasure here is I Corinthians 15:55
, one of Cash's last compositions of original material. Here Cash gets emotional, and it is clear that mortality is affecting him greatly. I don't think Cash ever was prepared to die, in fact it sounds as if he was afraid. The song has an uplifting vibe but it is disturbed by how close Johnny is to the microphone for some odd reason. You can hear the congested breathing of Cash as he puts the last of his strength into these songs.
Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
wasn't meant to be a song about death, but Johnny puts a soft vocal delivery to his slowed down guitar playing as if telling us a story by a fire, while he slowly loses consciousness. Satisfied Mind
's guitar work is odd as it goes in and out of frequency over the course of the song, which gives it this confusing feeling as if it is not sure what emotion it is feeling right now. I Don't Hurt Anymore
is a happy-go-lucky depressant short of alcohol as Cash feels relieved of his abandoned pains of the past as he sees his life slowly slipping away.
is a simple song with simple lyrics, which seems odd considering most of the track list on this album. That is, until you realize it was meant to soften the giant brick to the face that is Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
. This cacophony of clusterfuckery involves multiple instruments in the beginning only to drown back into Cash's guitar playing as he drones his vocals with zero emotion, as if he is apathetic of the whole thing, but acknowledges he should be in his delivery.
The one thing that gets me is Cash's cover of Aloha Oe
. A good cover, but why Cash chose to cover this song confuses me greatly. I get it's farewell aspect, but it goes against most of the albums aesthetic. In fact, when I think about it, the order of the songs seem to be out of place with each other. Why so many mixes of emotions? I didn't understand it; and then it hit me... the track list was meant to be listened in backwards order. Then it put the pieces into place.
-Johnny Cash acknowledges his health is failing and says goodbye to all.
Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
-Cash has a dream of peace, tranquility, and an end to war. Something Cash isn't accustomed to.
-Cash begins to feel something is amiss, as if he is missing something.
I Don't Hurt Anymore
-Despite this, Cash doesn't feel too much emotions over the past pains he experiences. These are not of relief, but apathy.
-Despite his confusion, Cash is sure that, when he dies; he will be content with his life.
Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
-Now Cash is questioning where exactly he is going after he dies. Doubt clouds his thinking as he still tries to figure out what he missing.
I Corinthians 15:55
-Cash consults the Bible to reassure himself that everything is okay, and that he can't let doubt shroud his faith as he begins to die.
For The Good Times
-Cash is still trying to tell himself that THIS is how it has to be. There is no way around his mortality.
-Cash realizes what he was missing. He never wanted to die in the first place. He remembers the pains he experienced and feels the emotion again. With the apathy gone, a dark yet reassuring revelation comes to him...
Ain't No Grave
-Cash's wings aren't strong enough, he had doubted his faith from the beginning. God doesn't want him. Chains overlap his feet as he forever wanders the Earth, torn between Heaven and Hell. Forever watching us with those eyes. The man in black, Johnny Cash, can never die.