Pretty Near Perfect
Out Among the Stars represents a significant change in the relatively recent posthumous releases of the great Johnny Cash. Rather than continuing in the same vein of the American Recordings, which capitalized on the dramatics of Cash’s aging voice and somber subject matter, Stars draws from lost sessions with producer Billy Sherrill that had been shelved by Columbia. The recordings, rediscovered by the man in black’s son, John Carter Cash, in 2012, utilize the original 1981 recordings in addition to recently added studio sessions, and were released under Legacy Recordings.
It’s hard not to tip one’s hat to Legacy and John Carter Cash for accomplishing what many Cash fans may have previously considered impossible: releasing “new” material that has the acoustic clarity and energy embody Cash in his prime. The attention to detail in mixing both contemporary recordings with the original sessions was undoubtedly a labor of love, having the crisp quality of any music released by a studio today, while featuring Cash’s voice. In fact, Out Among the Stars manages to bring back to life a number of other notable country and Americana musicians, including the vocals of June Carter Cash and Waylon Jennings, in addition to the steel guitar of Pete Drake.
In addition to the technical qualities and expert production that make Stars a notable release, the album itself is just plain good. It features songwriting and vocals that were genre-defying in their day, and had the material of Stars made it to the public ear in Cash’s heyday, it’s likely that the album would rank among the other classics that represent Cash’s lengthy and influential career. Out Among the Stars demonstrates the timelessness of a well-written country song, done by Cash with the gravity and energy that created the genre. Indeed, the album viewed from a modern perspective perfectly demonstrates Cash’s ability to write deep and emotional lyrics within a driving Americana beat, heard on tracks such as “I’m Moving On” and “Baby Ride Easy.” It’s one of music’s most listened to and celebrated artists doing what he does best, and a modern comparison really just can’t be found.
The word “perfect” doesn’t easily find itself in a music review, but the combined elements of the song quality and technicality make it easy to describe Stars as such. After all of the recent American Recordings and their accompanying somberness representing Cash’s impending passing, it’s pleasant to hear him in his prime, with the upbeat, energetic quality fans have grown to identify with him. One can only hope that rereleases of other artists will follow suit in helping to recreate the music of the artists’ pasts with the energy of any modern studio recording.