Forever Words, the new collection of Johnny Cash writings assembled by his son John Carter Cash, is all about juxtapositions — both with the Man in Black’s younger and older selves, and with the other artists who set his poems to music. But there may be no more poignant pairing on the new LP than newlyweds Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves, who join together to sing “To June This Morning.”
Presented in a black-and-white music video that also includes an intro by Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, “To June This Morning” is paired with the song the two country legends contributed to the record, “Forever.” It makes for a striking contrast: Both poems were written as love letters to Cash’s second wife, June Carter Cash. In the case of “Forever,” it was written in the summer of 2003, shortly after June’s death and only a few months before Cash — already in failing health — would die himself. “The trees that I planted still are young,” Kristofferson says in “Forever,” which begins the video. “The songs I sang will still be sung.”
That note of optimism carries over to “To June This Morning,” which Cash had written in 1970, when June was pregnant with John Carter Cash. Kelly and Musgraves duet throughout, singing the words in unison and to each other, a manifestation of the youthful hope that still flickers in the twilight of love seen in “Forever.” “To June This Morning” mirrors the sparse treatment of “Forever,” as well, carried along with nothing but the voices of the husband and wife and a gently plucked banjo.
“To June This Morning” was based on a poem that Kelly introduced to John Carter Cash, having seen it himself in a memorabilia book while he was a teenager, and the similarities between the couples aren’t lost on Cash. “Here’s a young couple running parallel lives with where my mother and father were,” Carter Cash recently told Rolling Stone Country. “In that vibrant, excited point where there is all that hope.”
Forever Words was released last week and features other contributions from Brad Paisley, Elvis Costello, Chris Cornell, and Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter. Musgraves also recently released a new album, Golden Hour, and is currently on the road with Little Big Town’s The Breakers Tour.