Johnny Cash would have been 78 years old this Friday. That's a shockingly young tally for someone who looked so weary, so beaten, so at-least-98 at the end of his life. But as lousy as Cash looked when he died in 2003, the Man in Black sounded worse. Posthumous 2006 release American V: A Hundred Highways was recorded during his last days; beautifully grotesque, broken and death-rattled, it remains buried in my record collection. When would you play such an album? Not sure I want to find out.
That's why American VI: Ain't No Grave, to be released Tuesday, is remarkable. Recorded in 2003, and once again a collection of eclectic covers, it seemingly should be more of the morose same. But someone had a plan, culling the brutal stuff for one disc, the uplift for later on. From the opening salvo of the title track — "There ain't no grave that can hold my body down" — this Cash album is startlingly resilient, uplifting. This voice from the grave is tattered, tattooed with life, and yet its energy is bold.
Produced by Rick Rubin, whose infamously stripped approach has been ideal throughout the treasured "American" series, Ain't No Grave is 10 songs about making peace with death, even cackling in its face now and then. The message is one of acceptance, and the accompanying music — provided by Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, among others — glows with hymnal spirit. I'll play this record again and again, especially the following four songs, the best of the bunch:
Sheryl Crow's Dylanesque antiwar folker takes power-gulping politicos to task for their bloodied hands. The saintly chorus, however, is pure uplift, as Tench's keyboards and Cash's voice swell with forgiveness. "There is a train, that's heading straight, to heaven's gate." Amen.
For the Good Times
"Don't look so sad / I know it's over . . . Just be glad we had some time to spend together." From one Highwayman to another, Cash raises a glass to Kris Kristofferson's chummy ode to better days.
Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
Cash is front, center and defiant on Tom Paxton's skyward-looking rumination. Rubin keeps things extra spare here, allowing lyrics and singer some alone time.
Queen Lili'uokalani's classic Hawaiian goodbye is drenched in reverb, wistfulness and just the right touch of tiki. Cash delivers this camp classic as if it were gospel (or at least Happy Trails), and the final words of the song are also, appropriately enough, the final four words of the album: "Until we meet again."
The Pork Playlist
I was prepared for dengue fever, for plague, for major organ removal. When I went to the doctor last week — after suffering sustained stomach pains and related bouts of feelcrappyitis — I was expecting a horrific diagnosis. What I did not expect was this: "No more pork." Whuhh? "Diet and exercise," Doc B. said. "You're lacking in both. That's all. No more fatty meats. No more pork. Chicken and fish. Broiled." Wait — I'm not dying? "Not yet," he said with a smirk. "You just need to take better care of yourself." No more pork? At first, I could only think of pork chops. That'll be easy! I won't let pork chops be my master! But then I remembered bacon. Bacon. Wow. Bacon is a buddy, a pal, a co-pilot, a calm in the storm called life. Love lift us up where bacon and I belong. And what about ham? Is ham a member of the pork family? Can I get a ruling on that? Pork rinds are definitely out of the question — although what if they're sprinkled on a salad? Oh jeez, and what about carnitas — is pork still as dangerous if it's in Spanish? Goodbye, pork [sniff], I guess I'll [gentle weeping] see you around. Man, I should have gone with the dengue fever . . .
2 Pork and Beans,
3 Spider Pig,
Cledus T. Judd
5 Hambone Blues,
6 Vanz Kant Danz,
Terrific Radiant Humble Pig, the Sherman Brothers
8 Bacon Biscuit Blues, Aerosmith
9 War Pigs, Black
10 Spam, Monty Python
Album: Teen Dream
In stores: Now
The cool kids call it "Nu Gaze": Despite the sunny, sandy visions evoked by this dream-pop duo's name, vocalist Victoria Legrand and guitar-keyboard whiz Alex Scally actually create towering Arctic soundscapes, like Brian Wilson surfing on a Slurpee sea. With Legrand's big, Kate Bushy voice, tracks such as Silver Soul ("We gather matters of the heart / So we can act a fool") and 10 Mile Stereo ("The heart is a stone / And this is a stone that we throw") are lush and lovely, but also hard to grasp; you're never quite sure what is being expressed: heartache or heart-warmth? But therein lies the tricky thrill of Beach House, one of the It Indie Bands of the past few years, and deservedly so. Teen Dream, the tandem's third album, gets better with repeat spins, all of its shimmery parts ultimately clicking into a moving, if slightly chilly, pop mosaic.
Reminds us of: Mazzy Star, Doves, Radiohead —
anything suitable for a
3 a.m. my-head-hurts what-just-happened chillout.
Download these: Silver Soul, 10 Mile Stereo and Take Care