I've never been so sad about a musician's death as I was with that of Johnny Cash. The release of Ain't No Grave, his second posthumous album, comes six and a half years after the "Man in Black" died. The aptly titled release and sixth recording from producer Rick Rubin's American Recordings series gives the eerie sense that Cash is still singing from the beyond.
Like all Cash's American recordings, the songs are mostly covers. The title track, originally sung by Claude Ely in 1953, is a haunting mix of deep piano chords, minor key guitar picking and drums that evoke the marching of feet on dirt, like a ghostly chain gang. Cash revives Sheryl Crow's gritty 1996 war song "Redemption Day," making it his own. "I Corinthians 15:55," the only Cash original, is a sweet hymnal, but it's songs like "Cool Water" by Bob Nolan, and "Satisfied Mind," made popular by Porter Wagoner, that get at the heart of Cash's lifelong struggle between faith and human pitfalls.
It's not the best of his American albums, not like Solitary Man or Unchained, but it's still powerful. The songs seem inextricably linked to Cash's absence now, in a way that illuminates how larger-than-life he truly was.