June Carter Cash recorded what became her final album with the help of her family — including husband Johnny Cash, their son (and producer) John Carter Cash, and her daughters and daughter-in-law — all chipping in. Due September 9th, Wildwood Flower was recorded over a span of four days at the Carter Family estate in Maces Spring, Virginia, and the current Cash enclave in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Finished just before her death on May 15th, the album features seven songs written by her uncle A.P. Carter and serves as a kind of June Carter Cash career retrospective.
“We sat down together and went over songs that made sense for her,” says John Carter Cash. “They were a great part of her heritage and upbringing. She grew up singing those songs. She sang them when she was a kid, and it made sense to come full circle.”
The daughter of the Carter Family’s Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash began performing with her siblings Helen and Anita as the Carter Sisters in 1937. Though she famously co-wrote “Ring of Fire” about falling for Johnny Cash, who eventually became her husband of thirty-five years, Carter Cash released little music under her own name, only recording the long out-of-print Appalachian Pride in 1975 and the Grammy-winning Press On in 1999 before beginning work on Wildwood Flower.
One of the album’s warmest moments comes in the form an impromptu spoken-word goof on tough-guy actor Lee Marvin to the audible amusement of all in the studio. “That was out of left field,” her son says. “No one knew that’s what she was going to do. She was a wacky comedienne. She was always surprising and mildly shocking you.”
June’s ability to surprise gives her final album a buoyant feel. The grave Carter Family classic “Storms Are on the Ocean” is followed by with a radio snippet of June Carter Cash as girl, flirting and joking on air with a DJ. “Church in the Wildwood/Lonesome Valley” begins with her explaining some of the history of the Carter Family home where the song was recorded.
“Our goal was to capture, to clarify,” John says, “not to ‘plastify.’ There’s so much material I hear that sounds like it was done in a laboratory. This is the real thing. You push a button and stand back when you’re done and look at everything you got later. She’s magic. It’s there.”