Less a farewell album than the musical celebration of a life, Wildwood Flower is as bright and bold as it is moving. Given the recent tragedy surrounding the first family of country (June died in May; husband Johnny in September; daughter Rosey Nix Adams poisoned by carbon monoxide in October), this is both autobiography and a chronicle of generational ebb and flow.
Recorded between October 2002 and March 2003 in Mother Maybelle’s Virginian childhood home in Mace Springs, June is joined by Cash, daughter Carlene, son John (who produces), AP and Sarah Carter siblings Joe and Janette, grandkids Laura and Tiffany and close friends Norman Blake and Marty Stuart. Most striking are the voices-June’s splintered like ageing timber, Johnny’s eroded by disease?but both possess a strength bonded by unconditional love. Their duet on “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” (one of seven AP Carter reworkings) is so intimate it almost feels voyeuristic listening in. “Temptation” is a playful take on their relationship, and a fitting companion piece to June’s classic “Ring Of Fire”, written for Johnny. Elsewhere, wartime radio snippets of the Carter Sisters and “Little Junie” appear like bursts of static. June’s humour is never more sweetly evinced than on the intro to “Big Yellow Peaches”, where she recalls being chased around the couch by Lee Marvin, a man who “liked to fight the Second World War all the time”. Her own “Kneeling Drunkard’s Prayer” and “Alcatraz” show a singular compositional flair, leavened by Blake’s sunny acoustic picking and spare use of fiddle, mandolin and June’s own trademark autoharp. Wildwood Flower is raw and achingly human.