Friday, September 12, 2003, Little Rock Arkansas. I was not going to review this release. June Carter Cash was obviously ill while she was recording Wildwood Flower, evident in her frail and unsteady vocals. Recorded between October 2002 and March 2003, Ms. Cash was to live only two more months before succumbing to heart disease on May 15, 2003. She sounded weak, but the spirit remained solid. However, it was painful to listen to.
Ms. Carter Cash was the daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter and the niece of A.P. Carter, the matriarch and patriarch of American folk music. Had she not acquired the married name Cash, she still would have been one of the most important American musicians, her name being whispered with the same reverence as that of Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, and Elvis Presley.
In 1968, Ms. Carter Cash married Country Singer and Arkansas Son, Johnny Cash. Together, they expanded the Carter Family dynasty ensuring its tradition and influence into the 21st Century. At 2:00 AM this morning, in a Nashville Hospital, Johnny Cash died from complications from diabetes. That made me listen to Wildwood Flower again. Billie Holiday recorded perhaps her most popular and controversial album late in her career, Lady in Satin. Ms. Holiday’s voice was all but gone, leaving only the naked emotion of a difficult life. It is powerful to listen to, just as Wildwood Flower is, but for different reasons.
Ms. Carter Cash sounds very similar to her famous mother. She sings the songs of her youth, accompanied by Nashville flames like Norman Blake, Nancy Blake, and Marty Stuart. Then, there are the family members Johnny Cash, Laura Cash, Carlene Carter, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe, and Lorrie Carter Bennett. Rosanne Cash penned the liner notes and John Carter Cash produced the recording. These musicians, bonded by family and culture, attend to songs as old as steeped in the collective unconscious of the United States.
Don’t expect a crowning achievement from this recording. Expect a heart-felt last gift from one with a lifetime of grace and giving. This is Ms. Carter Cash’s goodbye kiss to us.