June Carter Cash

Her voice careens out of the hills ravaged by time. Then the harmony chorus to Keep on the Sunny Side, as if bestowed by the angels, comes to lift her home.

It is a poignant opening to the posthumous Wildwood Flower by June Carter Cash, wife of Johnny, stepmother of Rosanne, matriarch of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On this, her final recording finished in March of this year, Lord, the troubles she's seen, only to end up a wildwood flower now at rest alongside her husband in a land far away.

It is a rough, flawed and altogether endearing, soulful, tender and heart-stirring album, and a fitting tribute to a timeless if endangered church-in-the-valley music from another age.

Cash, born Valerie June Carter in 1929, learned music at the hem of her mother, Maybelle Carter of the singing Carter Family. Her career was preordained. In 1952 she sang with first husband Carl Smith at the Grand Ole Opry. After their divorce she toured with a young Elvis Presley. She hooked up with Johnny Cash's road show in the early '60s and in 1963 co-wrote with Merle Kilgore "Ring of Fire." She and Johnny married in 1968.

She all but gave up recording in the '70s and '80s to tend to her husband's career and to rescue his body and soul from amphetamine addiction. Were it not for June Carter Cash, the Man in Black would have been gone years ago.

Some of June's recollections and a few old clips grace song intros. Then the lady of the hour puts her wearisome voice to classic mountain gospel tunes given fresh string work by the great Norman and Nancy Blake. And oh yeah, here's Johnny, joining on "Will You Miss Me," his own voice shaken by time and perhaps by their prospects.

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Marty Racine