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Johnny Cash

Out Among the Stars – 2014 (Sony Legacy)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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One would think that with all the archival music, reissues and postmortem tributes released on Johnny Cash's behalf, the vaults would have been scraped pretty clean by now, with only scraps left for dedicated completists to feast upon. So it comes as no small surprise to find that the Cash archivists actually uncovered some entire sessions that haven't been unearthed until now. Recorded in the early '80s, "Out Among The Stars" is such a high quality collection that it could have brought Cash to the top of the charts had it been released when it was originally intended.

First discovered by John Carter Cash in 2012, the songs, originally produced by veteran producer Billy Sherrill, were further refined by a musical team that included the younger Cash, Marty Stuart (who played on the original sessions), Buddy Miller and Carlene Carter. It's unclear what remains from the original sessions and what was added after the fact, but regardless, there's a richness and vitality to these recordings that stands in stark contrast to the dark, fatalistic albums he made with producer Rick Rubin for American Recordings. Indeed, there's abundant humor here, from the unlikely tale of a stage door Johnny and the surprising object of his affection referred to on "If I Told You Who It Was," to the double meaning and vengeful tale of a final rendezvous that steers "I Drove Her Out of My Mind."

Other treasures abound as well - the spirited revamp of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" (done as a duet with Waylon Jennings), the sprightly "Baby Ride Easy" and back porch ballad "Don't You Think It's Come Our Time" (both sung with wife June Carter Cash), and the domestic discourse that sweetens "Tennessee." All told, this is one timeless treasure, and one well worth the wait.