Artist: Johnny Cash
Album: Out Among the Stars
Release Date: March 25th 2014
Label: Legacy Recordings
Johnny Cash, died on September 12th 2003, a day where the Man in Black turned black all the skies and hearts from Arkansas to Oklahoma, the long way around. Since his death, the world has seen the release of American V: A Hundred Highways, American VI: Ain’t No Grave, and most recently Out Among the Stars. When the two albums from the American series were released, they didn’t really feel as though they were posthumous albums, they seemed simply as natural progressions in a discography of a man who had not really ever died, and instead was held in a perpetual state, which I like to call the ‘Presley Condition’.
However, the four years between American VI: Ain’t No Grave and Out Among the Stars seemed to drag on and Legacy Records, the label that released the album chose the perfect time to release the record to ensure that Cash was still a man who made people’s playlists on those late, cold evenings alone.
It is also worth acknowledging the serious thought that went behind choosing the title for this latest release. Especially considering that the previous record was entitled ‘Ain’t No Grave‘ and this latest record is entitled ‘Out Among the Stars’. It almost creates a narrative for the listener; ‘Johnny Cash is out amongst the stars because there ain’t no grave to hold his body down’. A potent sentiment for anyone who considers themselves a Cash fan.
The album’s creation dates back to the time that Cash spent with ‘country-politan’ producer Bill Sherill in the 1980’s. There Johnny Cash wrote and recorded the songs that would one day be the track-list for Out Among the Stars but then,they were shelved by the Columbia, his label.
It was in the dusty back-catalogue that those songs remained until 2012, when Cash’s song John Carter discovered them. Immediately, this cast some doubt and worry into my mind. When a man with the sheer stature that Cash had and the reputation he had built over his career, sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. Cash released what he wanted us to hear, and the discovery of rejected songs doesn’t make for an enthralling prospect. In a lot of ways, releasing an album of previously unheard off-cuts seems to be counter-productive and a potential blow for Cash’s reputation than a great PR move.
However, that being said; the lead single for the album was a song called She Used to Love Me a Lot (Which also comes with a B-Side on the album, remixed with Elvis Costello.) This song was first recorded by David Allen Coe in 1984 and was released as his first single from the album Darlin’, Darlin’. It was this song that lead to Out Among the Stars being one of the most anticipated albums of the year, it was also the song that left me with a childish giddiness upon hearing, lost in the wonderment that there may still be some Johnny Cash gems that I had not yet heard. Take a listen to the single and see if you can get to grips with the excitement I heard when I first heard the song.
If you listened to She Used to Love Me a Lot, there can be no doubt of the man’s prowess and it is also clear to see why it is one of the most solid tracks of the record. It has heart-shattering melody and a dark, moody back track, much like the eerie effect on Ain’t No Grave and God’s Gonna Cut You Down and Cash’s bass-baritone delivers perfectly as though his own Sermon on the Mount. The beauty of this song also lead to the biggest disappointment of the record. The version I have posted above, is sadly not the same version as that which appears on Out Among the Stars. The track on the record is much more upbeat with the stereo-typical palm-muted guitar that is synonymous with Johnny Cash’s music. However, we’ve heard all that before, this album should have been the chance to deliver something new, a different, revenant side to the Man in Black rather than playing safe and giving us what we’ve heard before.
A lot of the other tracks on the album, I’m sad to say were a disappointment for that reason. On the American Recordings we had beautiful production, dark and powerful lyrics and simple and melodic tunes, almost track after track of requiem. Out Among the Stars is a throw-back to Cash’s earlier years, the songs such as Don’t You Think It’s Come, Our Time are very Country and Western, featuring lots of slide guitar, female guest vocals and major keys. For other songs such as Call Your Mother you can almost see a Stetson-filled bar in the South of America where the song would be raging against the growing volume of leg slaps.
That being said, for those listeners of Cash that needed something a little more to listen to, or really appreciated the direction Cash was in before the first American Recordings in 1994, then Out Among the Stars is without a doubt, the album for you. Even if you don’t like the idea of the album there cannot really be any other choice than to listen to the album – just because it’s Cash.
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