June Carter Cash passed away just four months before her more celebrated husband, and though her relationship with the renowned Man in Black accounted for much of her notoriety, prior to their 1968 marriage she was recognized as an accomplished singer and songwriter in her own right. She performed as one of the Carter Sisters, co-wrote (with Merle Kilgore) her future husband's number one hit "Ring of Fire," and turned two June-Johnny duets -- "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter" -- into Grammy wins. Wildwood Flower, the final album Carter Cash recorded before her death this past May (and just her second solo record since marrying Johnny), celebrates not only her musical life, but that of four generations of country music's first family.
Nine of the record's thirteen cuts were originally put to vinyl almost seventy years ago by June's uncle A.P., aunt Sara, and mother Maybelle, collectively known as the Carter Family. Produced by son John Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower features performances by husband Johnny, near-countless cousins, daughters, ex-sons-in-law, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. But surrounding relations make the record more, not less, of a June Carter document.
Flower is, in many ways, a kind of musical scrapbook featuring Carter Cash's warmth and offbeat sense of humor. Her song "Big Yellow Peaches," written for actor Lee Marvin (who, according to June, "liked to fight the Second World War. He fought it all the time"), includes the wacky signature line "I'm going to get me a can of big yellow peaches/Oh, my true love is dead." Carter Family standard "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?" is obviously and determinedly poignant, but less conspicuous is the heartbreakingly sparse "Storms on the Ocean," in which Carter Cash's disjointed and reaching voice -- "I'm going away for a while" -- stands alone with acoustic guitar, cello, and violin. It is June Carter Cash's unflagging spirit that propels Wildwood Flower forward as a fitting testament to a full life lived in the arms of both music and family.
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