“American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” the final studio album by Johnny Cash, will be released Feb. 26, timed to what would have been the Man in Black’s 78th birthday.
The Rick Rubin-produced collection consists of recordings they made together after finishing “American IV: The Man Comes Around” in 2002 and before Cash died on Sept. 12, 2003, and features a characteristically genre- and era-hopping batch of songs by Kris Kristofferson, Sons of the Pioneers’ Bob Nolan, Tom Paxton, Sheryl Crow and others.
Throughout his career, Cash consistently was drawn to a wide variety of songs and songwriters, reflecting his relentless pursuit of quality and substance. “He loved talking about music,” Rubin said shortly before “American V” was released. “Since I met him, he was never particularly talkative. But if you drew him out, he knew about everything. He was a really wise man.”
The new collection also includes an original that Cash wrote during his final years, “I Corinthians: 15:55,” from the New Testament passage about the spirit ultimately triumphing over the physical body: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
The first of the posthumous releases in the “American” series, “American V: A Hundred Highways,” surfaced in 2006 and landed Cash another Grammy Award for the music video accompanying the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” It also gave Cash his first No. 1 album since “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” had topped the national sales chart 37 years earlier.
“American VI” is being described as the final installment in the series that rejuvenated Cash’s career, beginning in 1994 with “American Recordings.” The “American” albums yielded six of the 13 career Grammys awarded to the storied country singer and songwriter.
Cash’s deteriorating health, especially after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, in May 2003 meant that in terms of the recordings he and Rubin continued to work on, “There was a lot of stopping and starting,” Rubin recalled in a statement issued Wednesday. “But he always wanted to work. The doctors in the hospital kind of lectured me, saying, ‘He’s not going to stop, so you have to make sure he doesn’t work too much ...’
“Johnny said that recording was his main reason for being alive,” Rubin said. “I think it was the only thing that kept him going.”