Review Summary: Still flying
The posthumous release has become something of a common practice within the music industry in recent years. Something can be unearthed from every era in an artist’s career and marketed with ease to the loyal and the fickle alike. With a cultural figure as vital as Johnny Cash, the respectfulness of this can be debated, however Out among the Stars exists as a legitimate lost album, cleaned up and packaged properly, as opposed to being presented as a jumbled collection of outtakes and demos.
Born in the midst of a commercial and creative dry spell for Johnny Cash, still recovering from drug addiction and other personal problems, the quality of the material on Out among the Stars is surprising strong to say the least. Culled from sessions the man in black recorded in the 80s at a famous low point in his career, the songs here had they come to light at the time might have been better received than his existing output.
The spark of Cash’s early material rears its head in She Used to Love Me a Lot and Baby Ride Easy, sang with his wife June Carter and frequently performed live at the time, sparkles with the wit of classics such as Jackson. Cash’s lyrical storytelling leads the playful, dry If I Told You Who it Was again evoking his best material with his wordplay. Tennessee, an Ode to Cash’s home state where he lived almost all his life, pulses with the sentimentality that resonated with fans years ago and that has kept him a god in the eyes of many music fans and allowed him to transcend his status as a country singer. The title track conveys Cash’s sense of empathy, as a man who empathised with both the perpetrator and the victim, told in the most poignant manor.
The presence of only two original songs does drag down proceedings somewhat, the songs themselves not standing out much amongst the others. The unremarkable Call Your Mother is forgettable and fairly standard issue, however the more personal I Came to Believe stands things in greater stead. Addressing his relationship with God, Cash debates the turbulence of his career and personal life weighing up his respect for the faith he held dear his entire life. I Drove Her Out of my Mind finds the style and pacing of Cash’s 60s material disguising a darkly humorous intent in the lyrics in which the protagonist kills the girl he’s singing about. Otherwise, Out among the Stars really doesn’t deviate from a fairly straight forward country sound and whilst enjoyable, is never remarkable, even at its best. This material is very different from the music Cash was releasing prior to his death just over a decade ago. Thus this new material will likely be a let-down for many, coming from a time when he was working well below his best and yet to re-discover his creative spark working with the legendary Rick Rubin. In truth, whilst there’s probably a plethora of unreleased material still waiting in the vault, Out Among the Stars is as fitting an epitaph as any of the American Recordings albums, posthumous or not, as well as a testament to his eternal power to mesmerise his audience and change lived with his music. Out among the Stars could do just that.