An addendum to 2000's Love, God, Murder a theme-based career retrospective conceived and produced by Johnny Cash himself, Life stands as the great man's final artistic statement: Frail and devastated by the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, in 2003, the seventy-one-year-old Cash hung on just long enough to select and sequence the songs for Life from his massive, near-half-century body of work. On the opening track, "Suppertime," and the closing hymn, "Lead Me Gently Home" — both recorded in the late Fifties — a young Cash looks ahead to his exit from this mortal coil with a mix of celestial anticipation and childhood nostalgia. All of Cash's bedrock elements are present here: his fiercely uncomplicated love of God ("I Talk to Jesus Every Day"), the U.S. of A. ("Ragged Old Flag"), the workingman ("Oney"), the disenfranchised ("Man in Black") and, above all, his wife ("Where Did We Go Right?" a lump-in-the-throat duet with June). Cash's passion for justice is definitively expressed on "Ballad of Ira Hayes," and the good-ol'-boy bonhomie of "I Wish I Was Crazy Again" (sung with pal Waylon Jennings) fills out the picture. Life draws on material from 1958 to 1988, but it is utterly of a piece, thanks to Cash's immutable voice and values. Leave it to John to write his own epitaph.
- Johnny Cash
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