Johnny Cash’s 'Stars' haven’t gone out just yet
Latest posthumous record a different take
If you’re anything like me, the news of a previously unreleased album by Johnny Cash made you hop up from your computer and do a little dance. “The Man in Black” is as much an American icon as hot dogs and apple pie. But if it’s the gun-toting, drug-using Johnny Cash you’re after, turn back now.
Cash’s previous catalogue of work included masterful performances of classic American folk tunes as well as his timeless originals, like “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and Folsom Prison Blues, falling more in the vein of outlaw country. But new release “Out Among the Stars” is something else entirely.
This album was recorded in the early 1980s during the period when Cash was recovering from his drug addictions and found solace in religion. It portrays a gentler, calmer side of Cash — the man his family knew.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash said of the album, “This music resonates in so many ways to my spirit. It’s not just about the perfect voice; it’s a memory to me of who my dad was at the time. And what a blessing to come face to face with that and remember that now, and I feel like I’m with him again when I hear these recordings.”
This is an album by an old man who knew he was getting old. He talks about his relationship with God on the last track “I Came to Believe,” and he spends much of the rest of the album weaving tales of loss and sadness.
“She Used to Love Me A Lot” is a heart-wrenching tale of love lost — the hurt clearly evident in his voice. This song was recorded with only one vocal take, a feat that shows Cash’s musical prowess and how much every song was a part of “The Man in Black” telling stories he really experienced. This emotion also appears in “Call Your Mother,” a song from a father passing on life advice to his son with the constant reminder to call his mom and keep in touch.
Though this album as a whole may take on a more somber tone than most music found in Cash’s classic repertoire, it is not without its fun. “If I Told You Who I Was” and I Drove Her Out of My Mind provide a bit of comedic relief while showing that even to the end, Cash knew how to have fun and could always make a crowd laugh.
The latter song follows Cash as he goes to visit an ex, taking her out for a ride in a brand new Cadillac just like she always wanted. The ride then continues off the edge of a cliff — with Cash laughing at the irony of the murder-suicide the whole time.
Lines like, “Well now here she comes to greet me / dressed to kill and so am I / Hope she asks me if this / Cadillac will fly / And I know that I’ll die laughin’ / When I show her that it will” would have been a hit with crowds which enjoyed boisterous songs like A Boy Named Sue and “Cocaine Blues.”
Though this might not be Cash’s strongest album, it truly is a gift to be given more of his work posthumously. “Out Among the Stars” gives us another look into the life of an American icon — and for that, we should be grateful.