March 18, 2010

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Johnny Cash, America VI: Ain’t No Grave
American Recordings, Feb. 23

It’s so sweet for Rick Rubin, getting his name attached to Johnny Cash’s in the history books by producing this American Recordings series, from which earlier sprang “The Man Comes Around,” one of Cash’s last original tunes. I’m assuming this morose, mawkish mess is the last of them, awash in songs about death and eternal farewell, only one of which — the spur-jangling menace of a title track — really did much for me. Cash’s voice is in horrible form, dentures audibly flapping, his voice pinned to a very thin range before it collapses into feeble croaks.

So two things. First, this is not the Johnny Cash I want to remember; I prefer the wide-awake genius who was able to deadpan “Boy Named Sue” and make it funny even through the corniness. Cash was never a mass-consumption geriatric spectacle, though, and shouldn’t be remembered as such — at age 100, George Burns was irresistible singing “Old Bones,” where this comes off merely as an old, decrepit Baptist wreck waitin’ on Jeebus and demanding that we drop everything and dwell on what we’re about to lose.

And two, when-oh-fricking-when will the Boomers leave the kids alone to choose their own heroes? Sure, Cash was a marvelous artist, but not here, in a bad album being rammed down college-media’s throat, in turn taking numbers away from such similarly interesting characters as Caleb Followill, who hasn’t yet amassed the financial/artistic capital to break free of the record-industry constraints that presently demand his band plop out crummy alt-rock singles. What’s the deal here, this generation only gets theirs once the last guy from Styx dies? Not making an example out of Johnny fricking Cash, who, yes, was once God, but next batter please, already. CEric W. Saeger