The artistic life of Johnny Cash crossed every genre and through generations. One of the reasons his commemorative collections of songs are so massive is because they are passed down through families, only to be added to, and never pruned back. Just as Johnny Cash forever etched his place in musical history, and into the halls of fame for both rock 'n roll and country, John Carter Cash has found his own path and purpose in life in preserving his parents’ legacy. The son of Johnny Cash and June Carter bears lasting testament to their love, and his gifts for raw yet delicate production have showcased both his mother and his father as revered composers, forever relevant to a younger demographic.

In 2016, the hardbound collection of Johnny Cash’s poetry, prose, notes, and letters was published as “Forever Words.” The treasure trove of some 200 pages deserved more. Johnny Cash was always an artist who thrived on collaboration, touring as a member of The Highwaymen and reinvigorating his recording life with Rick Rubin in the 90s, and bringing noteworthy but not always known songwriters to the stage of his television show in the late 60s to 70s. Cash constantly took pride in being able to remain a working artist while he was launching tremendous talents, so it only seemed right to call on collaborators for the musical challenge of putting music to Johnny Cash's words for “Forever Words” as a musical album, releasing today, April 6.

Transcending time and space

Words paint a far deeper portrait than any image reflected in a mirror, and “Forever Words” takes listeners from Johnny Cash’s teen years through the agony of his final years until his death at 71 in 2003 from diabetes with complications. John Carter Cash reflects that his father was “so productive” even through those later years.

One of the things that Johnny and June accomplished was building the “Cash Cabin” on their property in Hendersonville, TN and transforming their rustic haven into a recording studio. The place Johnny Cash called “the Cedar Hill refuge” had walls that heard the last strains of June Carter's “Wildwood Flower” in 2003, and those same walls beckoned most of the artists contributing to “Forever Words” to come for their parts in the project.

Rosanne Cash lends her lilting and perfectly lonely tones to “The Walking Wounded,” and Brad Paisley pays his tribute to eternal devotion in “Gold All Over the Ground.” Alison Krauss is an Americana legend by any standard, but the holder of 27 Grammy trophies mimics nail-biting nerves when asked about her turn on “The Captain's Daughter,” with music co-written by Robert Lee Castleman. “I was hoping I'd be asked," admitted Krauss about the project, but she also admitted that it was like trodding on “holy ground," and said: "You're like, you really want to do it. But you really don't because you're afraid." (CBS News).

Final touches

Chris Cornell put his very emotional, personal touch on “You Never Knew My Mind.” The lyrics come from a very tumultuous time, when Johnny Cash was separating from his first wife, Vivian.

The dissolution of a family leaves scars forever, and the tracks of those scars seem audible in Cornell’s vocal. The performance represented the reciprocal appreciation for Cash’s interpretation of “Rusty Cage” from his 1996 album, “Unchained.” This collaboration is one of Cornell's last recordings before his death last May.

Along with the many love songs that June Carter and Johnny Cash sang to each other, there are countless songs written by others lauding their love. Deep and real as that love was, John Carter Cash refutes suppositions that his father died of a broken heart after June’s passing in May of 2003. “I know he died with one [a broken heart] but I don't think he died of one,” said the son of his father.

“Persistent” is the word he uses to describe his father, and if his physical body had lasted, Johnny Cash would still be creating his signature sound today, in John Carter Cash’s opinion.

Kacey Musgraves gives voice to one of those love verses to June, and Jewel and John Mellencamp weave in the common man themes that so designate a Cash song. Fittingly, the song “Forever” is done by long-time friends Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, who both lived lifetimes in their years with Johnny Cash.

Albums like these are called legacy recordings for a reason, and few artists have lived or written a lifetime legacy that is comparable to the one this complicated and gifted man in black left -- gems in song that glow eternally.