One of the standout vocal collaborations in Nashville music history was introduced Wednesday (April 17) at the Cash Cabin Studio.
The invitation-only event was staged to unveil superstar Sheryl Crow’s duet with the late Johnny Cash on her song “Redemption Day.” Attendees experienced the recording via the premiere of a moving, politically charged and haunting music video featuring both artists.
“The song has found its moment, and this is that moment,” said Crow. “The first time I heard him sing it, I wept. Having his weight on it….means so much. To hear him singing, ‘There is a train that’s headed straight for Heaven’s gate,’ he’s the man to have singing that.”
Crow initially wrote “Redemption Day” in 1996 after touring war-torn Bosnia with Hillary Clinton. She included the song on her CD later that year.
Cash’s version of it was issued posthumously on his American IV: Ain’t No Grave collection of 2010. When he decided to record his version, shortly before his 2003 death, he called Crow.
“Johnny got on the phone and grilled me about this song and every lyric,” she said. “He asked me about, sadness bringing about mercy [in the song’s second verse]. He asked me about leaders not keeping us fully informed [in the song’s third and fourth verses].”
“If he took a song on, he believed in his connection to that music – that’s how the humanity comes through,” said John Carter Cash, who originally recorded his father’s vocal in the Cash Cabin Studio.
The video, directed by Shaun Silva, features Crow performing at her piano, a questioning child and vintage footage of Johnny Cash. These are intercut with images of environmental calamity, war brutality, racial injustice and other social ills. The two superstars trade verses, and Crow harmonizes with the legendary Country Music Hall of Fame member.
“Redemption Song” will be issued by Valory Music on April 19. Company founder Scott Borchetta presided at the event.
“’Redemption Song’ jumped through the speakers when I first heard it, and it hasn’t left me yet,” he said. “And I don’t think it will leave you.
“It’s surreal to me to be here in a place that means so much to me. [Cash] is still the biggest and baddest rock star there is. The last time I was here was 13 years ago when we did the first Taylor Swift video here, ‘Tim McGraw.’”
“My father is certainly in these walls,” said John Carter Cash. “We recorded Johnny’s vocal here in this cabin.
“This song opens the heart to the state of our world right now. I know my father would be proud for Sheryl to make this statement…I’m honored to be part of history.”
“You talking about your dad and this song makes me want to cry,” replied Crow. She sang at the funerals of both Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
Their son added, “I remember Sheryl Crow and my dad at the Pantages Theatre in L.A. It’s been quite a journey since then.”
Borchetta presented John Carter Cash with a photo commemorating that meeting, framed with the lyrics of “Redemption Day.” Borchetta also told him that Valory Music is named for his mother, Valerie June Carter Cash.
Sheryl Crow has sold more than 50 million records to date. She has stated that her album for Valory will be her last. In addition to Cash, it will contain contributions from a constellation of other stars, including Sting, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Don Henley and Joe Walsh.
During the Cash Cabin event, she said she believes that the record album is a thing of the past.
“We don’t live in that day anymore,” Crow said. “I can ‘go out’ on this [as her last CD]. This is my way of saying I loved what I had. Young people don’t have that. And that’s okay. I like the idea of putting out a song like a tweet.
As for her collaborator on “Redemption Day:” “He was a great American. He was gonna have his say. He was gonna live his life.
“It matters that you stand up for what you believe in. It matters what the truth is.”
The invited guests included representatives from Nashville’s major media outlets, as well as Borchetta staff members and Music Row dignitaries.
“I hope this is one you never forget,” said Borchetta to the assembled media representatives. “Make this matter: I’m counting on you.”
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