“What June did for me was post signs along the way, lift me when I was weak, encourage me when I was discouraged, and love me when I was alone and felt unlovable. She is the greatest woman I have ever known. Nobody else, except my mother, comes close.”
The quote above, written by Johnny Cash in his autobiography, shows just how much love, respect and devotion the singer had for June Carter Cash. The old adage is that behind every good man there is a better woman, and in this case, it rings true. June Carter Cash passed away in May, but by all reports it was a peaceful passing. And for a member of the first family of country music in the Carter Family, June Carter Cash’s latest and last release is one filled with moving and poignant songs that might make hair stand on ends, create lumps in throats or both given the context of the record. Johnny Cash’s video of “Hurt”, which featured a brief glimpse of June standing on steps and looking down on her frail husband, was dubbed a classic. This album, containing glimpses of gospel and uplifting spirituals, might be considered her equivalent.
Beginning with “Keep on the Sunny Side”, Carter Cash starts off with the mid-tempo mountain sound that O Brother Where Art Thou revitalized. Her voice sound a tad strained, but given her age it only adds to the song’s brilliance. Helped out by husband Johnny on harmony vocals, June gives a better second verse, talking about the sun shining bright again. “Let us trust in our savior always, to keep us everyone in his care,” she sings with before more harmonies. The song is the first of eight tracks the Carter Family performed, making this album come around full circle. “Road to Kaintuck” is another mountain tune that has June singing and Johnny Cash giving narration for parts of the song.
“Kneeling Drunkards Plea” has more of a melody than previous songs, a tune that is rather self-explanatory by its title. The introduction to the song features old radio recordings of the Carter Girls, making for a nice interlude or memory. John Carter Cash also helps out on the track as violin and a quasi-military beat is used for effect. “Storms Are on the Ocean” begins with some lovable acoustic guitar and is just June and her voice. The swaying nature to the track gives it a certain Celtic tinge, but it only works to the song’s benefit. It’s a two-minute toe-tapping track that possibly only Marianne Faithfull could do the same amount of justice to. “Temptation” is a duet with June and Johnny that is quite strong given the pair’s age. Another introductory shows a younger, nearly teenage sounding, June on a radio program.
“Big Yellow Peaches” is prefaced by a brief yet funny tale, leading nicely into the song. What is interesting is the relation it has somewhat to “Delia’s Gone”, Johnny Cash’s track on American Recordings. Discussing a lover who she shot, Carter Cash gives just as much bleak humor to the song as Cash does to his number. “Alcatraz” is possibly the one minor disappointment to the album. A number that changes pace too often throughout, the song suffers as a result. “Sinking in the Lonesome Sea” fares much better. And while it might be an arrangement done thousands of times before, there is something about the name Carter and this music that oozes originality, giving it a certain advantage over contemporaries.
Another song “Church in the Wildwood/Lonesome Valley” begins with more tales from June about her uncle and mother. Carter Cash doesn’t give as strong a performance here and seems to find her place as harmonies are added for verse two. “Cannonball Blues” is fairly standard and has Carter Cash in a better form, at times diving into a slightly blues feeling in her voice. Of all the moments on this album, the introductory lines of “Will You Miss Me” are as moving and haunting as you may hear in years. “When death shall close these eyelids / And this heart shall cease to beat / And they lay me down to rest / In some flowery boundary tree,” she sings. If you don’t get chills or some emotion from this, check your pulse please.
Ending with the title track, this is perhaps as touching an album as you will hear all year. Although all passings are tragic, listeners should count their lucky stars such as stellar sonic epitaph was left for decades to come.