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“Oh, how many travellers get weary
Bearing both their burdens and their scars?
Don't you think they'd love to start all over
And fly like eagles out among the stars?”
Eleven years after the passing of Johnny Cash, the legendary Country star has recorded and released an unexpected brand new album, transported from "the other side". Well, not quite, but it feels like it. The twelve previously unreleased songs on the posthumous Johnny Cash album Out Among The Stars were all originally recorded with renowned record producer Billy Sherrill during sessions in 1981 and 1984, respectively –- only to be shelved by Columbia Records, where the recordings remained in the vault until Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, searched through the archives in 2012. Subsequently, a small group of musicians were hired to re-record some of the instruments to achieve the greatest possible sound, including June Carter Cash’s daughter, Carlene Carter, and Country singer-songwriters Buddy Miller and Marty Stuart (he also played guitar and fiddle on the original recordings).
Understandably, posthumous releases arouse skepticism at the possible prospect of weak, second-rate (or worse) material. But Johnny Cash fans can rest assured that Out Among The Stars far from puts the “Man In Black” in a bad light, and that the majority of the songs shine brightly. None more so than the evocative lead single She Used To Love Me A Lot, a Folk-ish acoustic ballad of such high quality that it’s difficult to fathom that it was never used or re-recorded for another project. The cinematic lyrics depict a doomed chance encounter between two ex-lovers: "Then I panicked as she turned to walk away / As she went out the door, I heard her say / Yes, I'm in need of something / But it's something you ain't got / But I used to love you a lot”.
The dobro-infused Out Among The Stars tells the tale of a frustrated, jobless small-town adolescent, who holds up a Texas liquor store, so desperate that he no longer believes in second chances (“But he knows that soon they'll come with guns ablazing / And already he can feel a great relief”). Baby Ride Easy is a sprightly, spirited duet with wife June Carter Cash, a cover of the Richard Dobson-written song that was recorded by her daughter Carlene Carter in 1980 (as a duet with Dave Edmunds), and If I Told You Who It Was is a humorous, sassy and salacious account of a fan’s encounter with a famous Country star (“You've seen her on the screen and in Country magazines / You'd think I was making it up / She said it was our little secret / And my golly, oh, I'm gonna keep it / Anyway, you wouldn't believe it / If I told you who it was”). And then her identity is revealed, as Cash sings “Howdy-y-y-y-, I’m just so proud to be here” (late Country star Minnie Pearl’s catchphrase).
The bittersweet and ironic I Drove Her Out Of My Mind is classic Cash and harks back to his old outlaw songs; it deals with a low-income, blue-collar guy, who’s desperately –- and unsuccessfully -– trying to forget his money-grubbing ex-girlfriend. Suicidal, he buys a car beyond his means, a Cadillac, invites her for a ride, and drives her off a mountain and out of his mind. The traditional Country song Tennessee pays tribute to the idyllic scenery and simple, peaceful lifestyle of the state, where Johnny Cash began his recording career ("Mama, I guess you heard I got married in Tennessee / I got a blue-eyed girl, who thinks the world of me / We got a cabin in the country, and a creek that rolls nearby / And a dog that won't even bark at a firefly"). Out Among The Stars showcases Johnny Cash as a Country star, who was far from being a shadow of his former self; this is a collection of songs that will most likely be a luminous revelation to all longtime fans of the "Man In Black".