Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave [American, 2010]
One of those nearness-of-death albums, a category that for me includes not only Warren Zevon's The Wind and John Hurt's Last Sessions, but also Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind and Neil Young's Prairie Wind. Definitely both the grimmest and the most hopeful, which taken together means maybe the best. The big difference is that it's more direct than any of them, keyed to Cash's rewrite of I Corinthians 15:55: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory." Fortified by his Christian faith, he lends a cracked gravity to souvenirs of cornball sentiment ranging in tone from Ed McCurdy's political "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" to Queen Lili'uokalani's escapist "Aloha Oe," which close an album that also includes the traditional title song, a Sheryl Crow number about redemption, "Cool Water," and the tenderest "For the Good Times" I've ever heard. Never mind sex under the stars--John will settle for a sickbed cuddle. As Queen Lili'uokalani put it, it'll be a solace "until we meet again." A