Out Among The Stars

Johnny Cash

Legacy, 2014


REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


The ’80s were not an easy decade for Johnny Cash. His star power had dwindled immensely, even though he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980. As his chart placements became spotty, his relationship with Columbia records hit the rocks, leading to the company dropping him after his 1985 album Rainbow. While Cash was able to kick his addiction to prescription drugs for a time during the early ‘80s, which led to him having a much clearer voice on these recordings, these sessions he did in 1981 and 1984 with producer Bill Sherrill were shelved by Columbia. They have now been released in 2014 by Columbia’s Legacy label as Out Among The Stars.

The line between hokey and catchy is a fine one on this album, but it has performed very well since its release, reaching #1 on the US Country charts. This is certainly far better than it would have done if released in 1981 or 1982, when the country scene was much different and Cash’s sound was essentially identical to all the other country production out there. Cash’s death in 2003 and the later renaissance he had with American Recordings have certainly helped to rehabilitate his musical standing and inject fresh interest in any new material released from him.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

First, let’s start with the catchy. The easygoing title track has a smooth beat and a catchy melody, but the crime drama told in the verses doesn’t really jive with the highflying rhetoric of the lyrics in the chorus. “She Used To Love Me A Lot” is the single from the album and truly stands out both in music and in lyric. There is a version of this song remixed with the help of Elvis Costello tacked onto the end of the album, but the treatment really does nothing for the song nor the album. Waylon Jennings pitches in to help with Hank Snow’s fast paced “I'm Moving On,” which is one of the best tracks on the album.  A close second is the hilarious murder-suicide tune “I Drove Her Out of My Mind.” "Don't You Think It's Come Our Time" is a beautiful duet with June which rings of the old Carter family nostalgia.

Then, there’s the hokey. The duet with June Carter on “Baby Ride Easy” just doesn’t go anywhere, and “Call Your Mother” and “Tennessee” are so syrupy sweet and country tangy as to come off as country parody rather than serious songs. Unlike “If I Told You Who It Was,” which truly is a country parody with a humorous tale, these tunes are drenched in a slow two-step with pianos and mandolins and sappy lyrics that cross the line that divides serious music from throwaways.

One final note is on Cash’s original gospel number, which makes an appearance on this album, “I Came To Believe.” Cash always had a special place for spiritual songs in his canon, and fans will recognize this track from a more stripped down version presented on American V: A Hundred Highways. This version hews much closer to the Southern gospel realm and is worthy of the Gaither Vocal Band. It is a very well written and well-produced song.

Overall, Out Among The Stars is a generally pleasant listening experience. There is nothing that makes you hit the track advance button, although some songs can be completely forgettable.  Cash’s voice is clear and strong, a product of him having kicked his addiction at the time of the recordings. Had the album been released in the ‘80s it may have met the same fate as his other records of the period because it would have been just another apple. With the benefit of 30 years, and his resurgence at the end of his career, we can enjoy this album as an exotic fruit from a well-respected country superstar.

Rating: B-

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