Sheryl Crow releases haunting new Johnny Cash duet 'Redemption Day'
Like many people, Sheryl Crow is concerned about the state of the world — from divisive political rhetoric to climate change to the distance that devices can sometimes put between people — and the future her children might be inheriting. The veteran singer-songwriter felt the need to send out a distress signal, pouring all those emotions and ideas into a video accompanying the remake of her meditative 1996 ballad “Redemption Day,” from her eponymous sophomore album.
The new version melds Crow’s contemporary take on the song with Johnny Cash’s cover, recorded shortly before his death in 2003 and released in 2010, on his album American VI: Ain’t No Grave. The video, directed by Shaun Silva (Kenny Chesney, Sugarland), blends archival footage of Cash with images of Crow singing and playing the piano in a field as a young boy witnesses a stirring montage containing both disturbing and hopeful visuals from history.
Sitting in the control room of the Cash Cabin — a recording studio/retreat in Hendersonville, Tenn., where Cash’s version of the song was tracked — Crow spoke with EW earlier this week about feeling the American icon’s presence when remaking the song. “I feel like, in a weird way, he had his fingers in it somehow,” she says. “I know that sounds extremely ‘woo woo,’ but there was a moment when I wrote the song [in 1996] that I felt like, ‘This is the moment. This song needs to be heard.’” (The original catalyst was a trip to visit the troops with Hillary Clinton.) “And there was a moment [in 2003] when he recorded it that he said [to me], ‘This will be the cornerstone of my next record. It’s important right now.’ And then when I got ready to make this record, this being my last album, it just kept being in the ether.
“We had been doing it live on stage, incorporating his vocal into our old version with footage and experiencing what the audience was experiencing in real time,” Crow continues. “That emotional… just feeling gutted by hearing him and all of us in our humanity in a moment where everybody’s phones went down even. Everybody was just there together. I felt like I couldn’t deny the importance of him being heard. And it just came together that way.”
Crow recalled talking to Cash while he was preparing to record his rendition, asking her to illuminate certain lyrics so he would clearly understand their meaning. She was, and remains, moved that Cash chose to record “Redemption Day,” and believes that he would’ve appreciated the intent behind the video.
“I think he would’ve loved it. I think people have forgotten what an outspoken American he was,” she says, noting his activism around issues like the Vietnam War, Native American rights, and prison reform. “I think he would be having none of this right now. I think he would be aghast. This is not the America that I think he would feel proud of. He was so outspoken and so courageous about what he believed in.”
When addressing a group of press later in the day for a screening of the video, Crow underscored the ultimate message of the song and video — needing to be better caretakers of our planet and each other — and why hearing Cash sing it inspired her to reinvent it now with a sense of somberness and urgency. “Every day I’m trying to teach [my kids] that it matters what the truth is and it matters that you stand up for what you believe in. It matters that you stand up against cruelty, even on the playground. It matters what words you choose. It matters that we treat each other with empathy and compassion,” she says. “Yet everything outside our home can sometimes work exactly opposite of that. And this song and having his weight on it — and because he stood up for what he believed at a time when what he believed wasn’t so popular — it means more.”
“Redemption Day” arrives ahead of the Missouri native’s star-studded duets album due out later this summer, featuring collaborations with a long list of friends she has made throughout her 30-plus year career, including Keith Richards, Stevie Nicks, St. Vincent, Don Henley, and Maren Morris.