After five volumes and a box-set of Rick Rubin’s Johnny Cash recordings (good and all as they were) it’s nice to hear a brand new album of older recordings from the late Mr Cash. Despite the recordings being from the 1980s (arguably a poor period for country music and a poor period for Johnny) the album is strong and rarely feels dated.
‘Out Among the Stars’ is fresh and vibrant and bounces out of the headphones like any good album from Johnny’s repertoire.
And while Cash has a stellar reputation, sometimes this reputation seems to be only linked to his image. This image, broken down into his early rockabilly period, the jail albums, the Rubin period etc, can sometimes eclipse the fact that he actually has a very impressive complete body of work, 96 albums no less, many of which have been unjustly forgotten. Prime example – 1969’s ‘Ride This Train’!
Anyway, we’re here to talk about ‘Out Among The Stars’. The sound is very lush, more lavish than the Rubin years. It is not entirely clear whether the polish is from the original sessions (taking place in 1981 and 1984, and produced by Billy Sherill) or from the additional work that was done on the songs in 2014 by John Carter Cash and Marty Stuart.
But what is clear is the presence of many of Johnny’s trademarks and little tricks, from a bit of boom-chikka-boom to talking-song (If I Told You Who I Was) to humour (I Drove Her Out Of Her Mind) to rollicking duet with June (Baby Ride Easy) and plenty of nice ballads, such as the excellent single She Used to Love Me A Lot, and the confessional Cash original I Came To Believe
And then there’s the title track. Out Among the Stars is nicely underlaid with mandolin, has a catchy chorus and includes another Cash signature – switching keys for the later verses. Call Your Mother follows in this same vein, delivering powerful straightforward country music.
Perhaps one or two of the songs are somewhat sentimental, but don’t let that put you off. The instrumentation is plentiful but not overdone, mainly giving us nice flashes of pedal-steel, strings, harmonica etc, nothing out of place, and plenty of variety.
The album as a whole is a lovely surprise for the Johnny Cash fan, and a reminder of the strength and depth of his body of work. There are no famous songs on this album, other than the cover of Hank Snow’s I’m Movin On. Indeed this is probably the roughest song on the album, recorded as it was – live in the studio.
But the biggest surprise about ‘Out Among The Stars’ is not just this stuff has lain forgotten for nearly 30 years, it’s that Columbia Records apparently decided to drop Cash after hearing the result of these sessions. Their loss, our gain. Finally!