September 12 will always be a day of mourning and remembrance for
me, ever since it became the day that John R. Cash left this
world to join June Carter Cash in heaven. Over the past three
years, I have grown to be more in awe of Johnny's music, music that
I was raised on and have loved for more than thirty years
makes me a youngster compared to some of his fans. This year, we had
new music from Johnny to add to the pile of reasons to miss one of
the greatest musical spirits this world has ever known.
American V: A Hundred Highways is a collection of the last
recordings that John was working on with Rick Rubin prior to
his passing on. Rubin's liner notes in the record speak volumes about
the way that Johnny touched people's lives, both through his music,
and, for those fortunate enough to know the man, through his everyday
life. The songs on this record are a continuation of the last few
recordings that Johnny released - they are tender prayers of a heart
that knows it is not long for the world - songs that deal mainly with
death and the situations that surround the passing of a loved one.
And while some of the tracks are soft, and you can hear Johnny's failing
health and his longing to see June plainly, there are also tracks
that are as strong as anything the man ever recorded. "Help Me"
starts the album off with the strongest of sentiments that came straight
from Johnny's heart: "Oh Lord, help me to walk another mile,
just one more mile/ I'm tired of walking all alone/ Lord, help me
to smile another smile, just one more smile/ Don't think I can do
things on my own
" You can hear the loneliness in the man's
voice as he struggles to live in this world without his love. If the
album ended here, it would still be a perfect last word from Johnny,
and one well worth the wait.
Johnny's take on the traditional folk tune "God's Gonna Cut
You Down" is full of a fierce brimstone, beseeching the masses
to pay heed to the call from the Master before it is too late. Johnny
gives the world one last train song with "Like The 309",
but this time, the train isn't simply an escape from prison or a reason
to cry because it's taken someone away, this time the train is taking
the body to its resting place so that the soul can go on. The track
is fairly dark, but filled with a strange joy and hope, and Johnny's
voice is resplendent and playful as it mischievously moves among the
bluesy, acoustic slide guitars. Johnny gives a somber tone to the
Gordon Lightfoot classic "If You Could Read My Mind".
This is one of Lightfoot's very best, but presented here in Johnny's
failing tremoloed voice, the song attains an almost mystical level,
truly haunting in its own right. Springsteen's "Further
On Up The Road" continues the dark vein, but Johnny seems filled
with a stronger resolve about the outcome of death and what may come
after. "On The Evening Train" was written by Hank Williams
- incredibly, I don't recall ever having heard him play it - and is
a fitful prayer about saying goodbye to those we love, and finding
a way to deal with the loss. The song is perhaps Johnny's last way
of saying to his friends and family that he'll see them again, when
they join him up home.
Johnny's "I Came To Believe" is a departing statement about
being true to oneself, and ultimately to a higher power that can take
pain and confusion away. The version of Rod McKuen's "Love's
Been Good To Me" is playful in its sincerity, while Don Gibson's
"A Legend In My Time" is filled with a regret befitting
the lyrical content. Hugh Moffatt's "Rose Of My Heart"
is the perfect love song in the voice of Johnny, the track is tender
and peaceful. Ian Tyson's classic "Four Strong Winds"
as sung by Johnny has a certain softness to it that belies the strong
sentiments it contains, but is here implacable and filled a strange
lonely power. The old spiritual "I'm Free From The Chain Gang
Now" is perhaps the most fitting way to end this last recording
as it is a beautifully rich recording of an amazing
song, but you can hear it in Johnny's voice
he's free from this
world know, and in a happy place once more.
While this new collection of songs haunts me, it seems that it
was just the exact kind of therapy that John needed to make his
departure a little bit easier. There are many points on the album
that the listener can empathize with John, knowing he's working
through things for his own coming journey, as much as he is trying
to let us all know that all will be well without him here. But we
should find our loves and our truths and hold on to them as he did.
Johnny was a passionate and fierce man, and I miss him everyday.
But I thank him for leaving this last bit of music to help tie things
God bless you, John. I hope June and you are very happy.
1. Help Me
2. God's Gonna Cut You Down
3. Like The 309 (the last song Johnny wrote & recorded)
4. If You Could Read My Mind
5. Further On Up the Road
6. The Evening Train
7. I Came To Believe
8. Love's Been Good To Me
9. A Legend In My Time
10. Rose Of My Heart
11. Four Strong Winds
12. I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now
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