Ten years after Johnny Cash’s death, a collection of his “lost” songs are being released on “Out Among Stars.” Originally produced by the country music producer Billy Sherrill, the recordings were discovered in Cash’s cabin by his son, John Carter Cash. Together with Legacy Recordings and handful of other artists, Carter Cash compiled and re-mastered these previously unheard tracks.
If you have never heard of Johnny Cash, he is one of the most influential and prolific musicians of the last century. Along with Hank Williams, he defined American country music.
With a catalog of such scope and intensity, it becomes difficult to sift through all of his work. While not every album can be as monumental as “Live at Folsom Prison,” some of his albums recorded in the 1980s feel less than sincere and a bit more like the ramblings of a rodeo clown.
The title track of this new album reminded me why I love him. “Out Among the Stars” is the story of a murder in a small town. Cash pulls no punches in this song, calmly explaining in his iconic, deep and brassy voice the truth about crime and poverty. The song itself is very poetic, such as when Cash unflinchingly sings that the boy “dies in every living room in town” on the evening news that night.
However, some of the album is not as moving or authentic as the first track. The album’s second track, “Baby Ride Easy,” is a duet with his wife June Carter Cash and gives a lighthearted and antiquated look at love. The song could be considered fun and warm — if you’re OK with love being picturesque gender roles where a woman’s ability to cook is as important as a physical connection.
Sonically, the album sways and swings in the same fashion as many of Cash’s previous works. The album is inundated with slide-guitar and jangly, unremarkable hooks. The beauty of a good Cash album does not come from his ability to play guitar, but his ability to paint a picture.
The track “I Drove Her Out Of My Mind” is about Cash planning to drive him and his ex-girlfriend off of a cliff in a brand-new Cadillac. Not only is he hilariously content with not paying off the car, but he finds the perfect words as he sings to her.
“Call Your Mother” is a bittersweet story of a divorce, where Cash asks his partner to “gently break the news” to her mother that she doesn’t love him.
Overall, “Out Among the Stars” sounds like any other Cash album. It is simple, yet moving, and also dark and comical. This is all we could have asked for from an album by a dead music legend recorded long after his prime.
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