Out Among the Stars

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Polly Coufos

Johnny Cash

Sony IN 2014 there is no more ven­er­ated fig­ure in coun­try mu­sic than Johnny Cash, but it was not al­ways this way.

In 1981, Cash was a decade past his great­est suc­cess and at least that far away from his cre­ative re­birth, mid­wifed by pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin. Back then there were no hip­sters wear­ing T-shirts of Cash flip­ping the bird at San Quentin prison. In 1981 he was mak­ing records that he hoped would help him find a new au­di­ence, if not re­con­nect with an old one.

People might have stopped lis­ten­ing — in­clud­ing cru­cially, those at Columbia Records, his home for more than 20 years — but Cash never stopped mak­ing worth­while, if not out-and-out clas­sic, al­bums.

It is in this en­vi­ron­ment that Cash con­nected with Nashville’s money man­pro­ducer Billy Sher­rill to work on a fol­low-up to 1981’s The Baron, his 66th al­bum. From there the story gets in­ter­est­ing. Out

Among the Stars is the re­sult of their ef­forts (bol­stered by some fur­ther record­ing in 1984 and ju­di­cious over­dubs in 2013), an al­most com­plete and com­pletely for­got­ten al­bum that Cash’s son John Carter Cash found in 2012 when go­ing through the ar­chives.

Out Among the Stars doesn’t sound bur­dened by am­bi­tion or des­per­a­tion; rather, it cap­tures Cash and an A-grade team with their sleeves rolled up, sim­ply try­ing to make the best record­ing with the ma­te­ri­als at hand. It hangs to­gether like a typ­i­cal Cash al­bum, filled with story songs, gospel songs, hu­mor­ous songs and guest stars (wife June, pal Way­lon Jen­nings).

The boom-chicka-boom sound is present but pol­ished a la Sher­rill. Amid the fa­mil­iar is

Af­ter All, a straight coun­try bal­lad, the likes of which the pro­ducer churned out with Ge­orge Jones and Char­lie Rich. He may not have the ver­sa­til­ity of ei­ther of them but Cash, so far from his com­fort zone, nails it.

June Carter Cash duets on Baby Ride Easy, at the time a re­cent hit for her daugh­ter Car­lene Carter and Dave Ed­munds. June may not match Car­lene for sim­mer­ing sex­u­al­ity but she and Cash sure sound as if they are hav­ing a ball out front of a band rac­ing through the changes. Re­cent over­dubs by Jerry Dou­glas (do­bro) and Marty Stu­art (man­dolin) add an ex­tra layer of class. Sim­i­larly, the sub­tle use of Buddy Miller’s shim­mer­ing gui­tar on She Used to Love Me a

Lot en­sures it’s as fresh as to­mor­row’s milk. The song it­self is a gem, once a hit for David Al­lan Coe, but now safely a Cash clas­sic.

Cash also of­fers a clas­sic from his own pen. On Call Your Mother the mas­ter sto­ry­teller of­fers a fresh an­gle on di­vorce. His cel­e­brated sense of hu­mour comes to the fore on the dark, dark I Drove Her Out of My Mind, where a man lays out his plan for a mur­der-sui­cide. The pure ge­nius of a gospel choir hand­clap­ping and hal­lelu­jahing on the outro only adds to the ab­sur­dity of the sit­u­a­tion.

One of a kind in 1981, one of a kind now.

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