Sheryl Crow and Johnny Cash duet across space and time
Sheryl Crow’s latest single is a duet between her and singer Johnny Cash on her song “Redemption Day,” although the pair’s vocals are sixteen years apart and separated by the grave. But because the two performers knew each other and Cash talked to Sheryl about the song before he recorded it, this project seems heartfelt and unforced, as well as timely.
Listening to Johnny Cash’s six American Recordings is an emotional journey that takes the listener straight through the heart of America, into the depths of hell and back to a stark, sometimes biblical landscape that’s full of signifiers. Producer Rick Rubin was devoted to keeping a stripped down sound, lending the recordings a confessional quality. It’s just you and Johnny Cash in the room along with God and the Devil, the impending notion of death, and the approaching golden hour of eternity.
The last two sessions, released posthumously as American V and VI, were recorded in 2003, only months before Cash’s death. You can hear the decline of his health in his voice and breath, making his performances of these songs a final proving ground of his faith.
At these final sessions, Cash recorded a version of “Redemption Day.” Crow tells Taste of Country website that he asked her about the song’s inspiration. The song was written during a trip that Crow made to Bosnia with Hillary Clinton, then First Lady of the U.S. It reflects Crow’s frustration at seeing a lack of response to the war and humanitarian crisis there, but the secret to the song’s staying power (Crow first recorded it for her self-titled second album in 1996) is its lack of specificity. Its folksy sound and powerful imagery allow it to be adapted to many situations, be it Bosnia, Myanmar, Venezuela or the modern day United States.
“Just hearing his powerful voice, knowing what was behind the man and what a great American and outspoken artist he was, to hear him on that then and definitely to hear him on it now has I think made the song more powerful,” says Crow.
The song will be included on her upcoming album featuring duets with Willie Nelson, Maren Morris, Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris, and Brandi Carlile.