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Archive for April 2nd, 2014

Review: Johnny Cash, “Out Among The Stars”

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Johnny Cash Out Among the Stars“It’s midnight at a liquor store in Texas, closing time, another day is done when a boy walks in the door and points a pistol/He can’t find a job, but Lord, he’s found a gun…”

Talk about an introduction! Listening to the “new” 2013 Johnny Cash album Out Among the Stars, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re in good hands. Cash’s robust, reassuring storyteller’s voice is firmly authoritative on the ironically jaunty opening track, yet filled with empathy for the “many weary travelers…bearing both their burdens and their scars.” The song could have been recorded yesterday, but in fact, hails from a “lost decade” for the Nashville legend. That such a strong track dates back to the 1980s, the decade in which he was dropped by his longtime label Columbia, makes its discovery all the more thrilling.

The Johnny Cash of Out Among the Stars isn’t exactly the Cash of American Recordings fame. Whereas producer Rick Rubin reinvigorated the artist’s career by emphasizing the darkness that always lingered just under the surface, these recordings helmed by countrypolitan guru Billy Sherrill (George Jones, Tammy Wynette) take a more rounded approach. Longtime fans of The Man in Black – or anyone lucky enough to pick up Columbia/Legacy’s 2012 Complete Album Collection box set – know that black was just one of his many colors. Cash albums frequently featured dollops of humor and spirituality, too. Though some of Cash’s material from the eighties wasn’t worthy of him – “The Chicken in Black,” anyone? – the songs culled for Out Among the Stars find his instincts in sharp form. Ten of the twelve tracks were recorded between April and June 1984; the remaining two songs date back to 1981.

For these sessions following up their collaboration on The Baron (also from 1981), Sherrill and Cash were joined by June Carter Cash, Waylon Jennings and the first-call group of Marty Stuart (guitar/mandolin), Jerry Kennedy (guitar), Pete Drake (steel guitar), Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano) and Henry Strzelecki (bass). When the time came to revisit the sessions in 2013, Johnny and June’s son John Carter Cash and co-producer Steve Berkowitz called once again upon Stuart, as well as June’s daughter Carlene Carter, Buddy Miller, Jerry Douglas, Laura Cash, Niko Bolas and others. With the seeming intent of recreating the vintage Cash sound while staying true to the textures of the basic recordings, John Carter has brought back his father’s warmly enveloping, resonant style. These twelve songs are a return to traditionalist country, where anguish and passion go hand in hand in a sea of heartbreak. Out Among the Stars isn’t spare, but supple. This vibrant album should disprove any theories that Cash was incapable of channeling his glory days or was somehow making “irrelevant” music in the electronics-obsessed eighties.

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Written by Joe Marchese

April 2, 2014 at 11:49

Posted in Johnny Cash, News, Reviews

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