Johnny Cash is one of the only artists I can think of whose posthumous releases make him seem even more alive. That sounds like a cliché, I know (“singing from beyond the grave,” etc.), but in the case of Cash, it’s just too true to not note. There are two key differences between his final recordings in the American Recordings series and most other posthumously released material: Rick Rubin (obvs) and the fact that Cash almost certainly knew these songs would not be heard by the public until after he was gone.
“Every morning, when he’d wake up, he would call the engineer and tell him if he was physically up to working that day,” Rubin said in a press release about the forthcoming album American VI: Ain’t No Grave. Later, Rubin reveals that doctors once lectured him during Cash’s busy final days, pleading: “He’s not going to stop, so you have to make sure he doesn’t work too much.”
In “Ain’t No Grave,” the title track and first single from Cash’s latest release, Rubin puts the “singing from beyond the grave” idea front and center, adorning lyrics such as “When I hear the trumpets sound / I’m gonna rise right out of the ground / Ain’t no grave can hold my body down” with a sample of percussive, rattling chains. Later on the track, Seth and Scott Avett contribute banjo and footsteps, à la “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
I could rant and rave about this—or any Johnny Cash—song all day, so you better head over to Lost Highway now to stream “Ain’t No Grave” thataway before I get going.