Out Among The Stars
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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
It's hard to believe there was ever a time that Johnny Cash was irrelevant to the country music scene, but this "lost" release of "Out Among The Stars" is proof of that fact and it's just plain crazy. The album contains songs that Cash cut in 1981 and 1984 and never released because there simply was no market for his music at the time.

The sound quality of the material is excellent, better than a lot of other 80's era releases that I've heard showing the care that was put into the mastering of these tracks. Cash's voice is in fine form and he is singing his heart out. The instrumentation is top notch as well, including the great Marty Stuart playing guitar and mandolin on these tracks.

One of the highlights for me is a cover of the Hank Snow tune "I'm Movin' On" where Waylon Jennings joins Cash in the studio for the recording. Hearing both of their voices on a "new" track was priceless to me and they both show fine form here ripping through this track and having a grand time doing it. To me this track alone is worthy of the purchase price.

"She Used To Love Me A Lot" is a darker tune, but those are always the ones Johnny Cash did best. It's a song about losing someone important in your life and when Cash sings it you believe it.

Every now and then there's a song that you just have to hear to enjoy and there is a track like that here in "If I Told You Who It Was." It's a track about an intimate encounter with a famous female. It made me smile, then laugh out loud as the "secret" is revealed.

"I Drove Her Out Of My Mind" is one of the most unique tracks I've ever heard from Johnny Cash, it's an uptempo track where he talks about planning on driving off a cliff with the girl that broke up with him. Don't know if I've called something with that subject matter fun but Cash shows off his sense of humor here like never before.

"Rock and Roll Shoes" is a fun track that goes back to Cash's early days with Sun Records.

There are two tracks where June Carter Cash lends her vocals, "Baby Ride Easy" and "Don't You Think It's Come Our Time," both showing the energy and passion that they both brought to their music and each other.

The bottom line is this is a great Johnny Cash album that his fans and anyone that enjoys real country music will enjoy. 5 Stars all the way.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2014
"Out Among The Stars" is a previously unreleased album by country icon Johnny Cash, who died in 2003 at the age of 71. John Carter Cash found his father's lost recordings, that were recorded in the early `80s and originally produced by Billy Sherrill, while combing through the family archives. With none of the twelve songs heard anywhere before (as performed by Johnny Cash), and the sound and production technology brought to modern standards, this album is an absolute must for fans of the legendary "Man In Black."

The album-opener "Out Among The Stars" starts out with the signature Johnny Cash train-track rhythm and his deep baritone singing about crime and retribution, and instantly became my favorite on this album. Other highlights are the ballad "She Used To Love Me A Lot," the bluegrass duet with June Carter Cash "Don't You Think It's Come Our Time" and "I Came To Believe," a track with some gospel influences. Other personal favorites are the catchy "I'm Moving On" which is a duet with Waylon Jennings, the darkly humorous "I Drove Her Out Of My Mind" and the even more fun "If I Told You Who It Was."

So, some 30 years after these sessions were originally recorded, we get to - posthumously - enjoy a great record and the fact that this was shelved - and forgotten - is surprising as these songs show that Cash was in the prime of his voice and thus the album "Out Among The Stars" is a great final legacy of "The Man In Black."
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon March 25, 2014
This is a fine Johnny Cash album. I'm very relieved to be able to say that, because previously rejected and rediscovered material might have turned out to be a load of substandard stuff cobbled together just to make money, but this is nothing of the kind. It's vintage Cash and his voice in particular is in terrific form here.

Johnny's son John Carter Cash discovered these master tapes while cataloguing his parents' recordings. It is material recorded in 1981 but rejected by the studio, presumably because it was unfashionable at the time. Now, it sounds just great - a mixture of pure country, Rock & Roll, ballads, comic songs and driving rockers, all with that inimitable Johnny Cash sound. His band is excellent, his wife June Carter Cash duets with him on two tracks and Waylon Jennings appears on one, but it's Johnny's vocals that really make this for me. He sounds simply fantastic, hitting every note smack in the middle even on the live recordings, phrasing everything perfectly, giving every song exactly the right meaning and tone, and hitting some of those spine-tingling low notes which made me fall in love with his music as a young boy over half a century ago.

I don't know whether any individual track here is a strong enough song to end up as a classic, but as a collection it's terrific. The opener is the title track, a powerful song about a desperate boy committing "suicide by police," but it's followed by the duet Baby Ride Easy with June, which just makes me smile and tap my feet. If I Told You Who It Was is an out-and-out comic song, delivered with exactly the right blend of heroic seriousness and knowing twinkle in the eye, I'm Moving On is just a great Country drifter's song...and so on. It's just a hugely enjoyable, varied album of good songs performed to perfection by a master at the top of his game.

I won't bang on any longer. The long and short of it is that this is Johnny Cash on top form. It's a delight to hear this material now that it has been unearthed and if you like Johnny Cash, you'll like this. A lot. Very, very warmly recommended.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2014
Just like every other Johnny Cash album, this one is wonderful, imo. All previously unreleased songs, too. I figured everything he'd ever touched had been released already, until I heard about this album, like 3 months ago. Classic Cash. He can sing anyone's song, especially when June joins in. If you haven't already, buy this album! Let's all keep his music relevant. I'm only 37 & I am truly disappointed with the direction Country Music has taken. So, buy this & you'll at least hear Country Music in the classic Cash way, the way it's supposed to be. Definitely recommended! $9.99 ain't bad, either, especially for unreleased Cash tunes. Thanks John Carter Cash! And thanks to Johnny & June while they were with us, for the great gift of great music.
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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2014
Johnny Cash, as great a music figure as he was, was an artist who lived and died by his producers. As I've written before, he had four great periods, all associated with a particular producer, and all of which faded as those relationships frayed:

1. His classic early Memphis recordings (1955-1956) were the fruit of his relationship with Sam Phillips. As Sam pursued new talent, Cash was left in the hands of engineer Cowboy Jack Clement. As Cash's resentment grew, the quality of his output faded.

2. Moving to Columbia's Nashville studios in late 1958, he worked with Don Law (and his protégé Frank Jones) until Law's forced retirement in 1967. When Cash's artistic vision was clear (Bitter Tears, Ring of Fire) he made the best country music ever. When drugs and pressure got the best of Cash, though, Law's traditional country flourishes made for some embarrassing output.

3. Fresh off producing Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Johnston turned Cash's career around with the rough-and-tumble At Folsom Prison, and then laid the groundwork for the folkier, story-based approach Cash would pursue throughout the 70's with Hello I'm Johnny Cash. Johnny could be petty, though, and an unknown upset resulted in a split between the two in 1971

4. After 20 years of artistic meandering, Rick Rubin finally recaptured the magic with the string of American Recordings collaborations.

So what happened from 1972-1992? For the most part, a whole lot of nothing, and that's where the story of Out Among the Stars begins. By 1984, Cash was down to the occasional hit, and a string of declining record sales, despite the relatively high quality 1983 release, Johnny 99. If you look at what worked for Cash throughout his career, though, it was his place as a country outsider. His career was born in Memphis and died in LA; whenever he went close to Nashville, it suffered.

As Columbia tried time and again to reboot Cash's record sales, though, their recurring strategy was to refashion Cash in the current Nashville trend. In 1984, Billy Sherrill's slick countrypolitan sound was hot, and Cash's old school sound was not. Johnny was also approaching another personal low as his drug abuse resurfaced. Cash and Sherrill had a modest success with their #10 hit The Baron in 1980, which even resulted in a TV movie. The accompanying album, though, was rushed into production for release in 1981, and was a mixed bag. Less than a year after the firing of stalwart bassist Marshall Grant, Cash was fully and completely divorced from his boom-chicka-boom sound.

In 1984, Johnny entered the studios with Sherrill once more, hoping to take the collaboration one step further. An advance single was released, which Cash at the time claimed was one of the greatest songs he had ever made. He was obviously high. The Chicken in Black was a novelty song about a chicken given Johnny Cash's brain. What was meant to be biting satire about his relationship with his label, became a tragic embarrassment and Cash soon disowned the song. Not surprisingly, then, the rest of the album was shelved...

Until 2014.

Out Among the Stars gives us 10 unreleased tracks from the 1984 sessions, plus two more leftovers from the 1981 Baron sessions, and a contemporary remix by Elvis Costello. In all, it's not a bad album as far as Cash's 80s fare goes. Most of the tunes are upbeat, fun country tunes: Baby Ride Easy is a fun truckin' love song with June and some hot dobro. If I Told You Who It Was is a novelty song about a scandalous country chanteuse. I Drove Her Out of My Mind is a murder ballad played for laughs, and Rock and Roll Shoes is a lightweight dance tune that harkens back to 50s rockabilly. The highlight of the upbeat tunes, though, is Cash's duet with Waylon Jennings on Hank Snow's classic I'm Movin' On.

While enjoyable, all of the tunes are forgettable, so one would hope the ballads would make their mark. Despite some moments, though, nothing here really sticks. Opener Out Among the Stars is a compassionate tale about the endless ripples of a liquor store robbery gone wrong. There was no need to remake this Merle Haggard tune, and Johnny did a far better job in similar territory with the previous year's Highway Patrolman (penned by Springsteen). She Used to Love Me a Lot is a melancholy tale of lost love. It's fine, but isn't quite the classic this album's promotion makes it out to be. After All - penned by Ed "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" Bruce - is probably the low point, mired as it is in cheesy 80s keyboards. Things get better with Call Your Mother, a Cash-penned break-up tune about losing your ex-lover's family... with his own marriage on thin ice at the time, perhaps he was worried about losing touch with the beloved Carter family.

Thankfully, the back pages of this album offer some truly solid material, although two of these tracks are from the '81 sessions. Tennessee is a tribute to country life. Although its pedal steel and fiddle are miles from the Cash sound, it features one of the catchiest choruses Cash ever sang. Bakersfield legend Tommy Collins' Don't You Think It's Come our Time provides an opportunity for Johnny and June to create a timeless bluegrass duet. Then, following these gems, comes the real treasure - a Cash hymn that is as personal as he ever got:

"I couldn't manage the problems I laid on myself/ And it just made it worse when I laid them on somebody else/ So I finally surrendered it all brought down in despair/ I cried out for help and I felt a warm comforter there."

Although the version he would record with Rick Rubin for American V takes a more effective, austere approach, here we finally hear the song in its original context. Months short of checking into the Betty Ford Clinic, his career tanking, and his relationships (once again) faltering, Cash looks to the roots of his faith for help.

The problem with this album, though, is Sherrill takes so long to get down to the heart of Cash. Where his greatest performances are multifaceted and nuanced, here they are flat and one-dimensional. The novelty tunes have no edge, and the ballads are too smooth to convey Cash's great humanity. It's no wonder, then, that Cash would start hiding away his best songs until he found a friend in Rubin who could truly do them justice.

I'm glad Out Among the Stars has been released, but it's a bit of a bastard child. The promotions make this out to be a great lost album, but it's not. The slick Sherrill-isms have been toned down a bit, with some contemporary chicken pickin', dobro and fiddle added (particularly on the first three tracks), but it is what it is... aborted sessions from 1984, with a couple of leftovers from 1981. That said, it's far better than the following year's atrocious Rainbow, which would end his solo career with Columbia.

The lesson, here, though, is clear: throwing Cash to the wolves of Nashville was, is, and always will be a bad idea. Long live Cash the country outsider!

Other songs from the era:

Chicken in Black/the Battle of Nashville - this was the single released in 1984. The a-side has not worn well, but the b-side is actually fantastic and eerily telling: "I'm losing ground with you daily/ and it's just a matter of time... here's my swan song for music city..." If only he'd wisened up sooner! Available on Singles Plus.

Crazy Old Soldier - having first recorded Johnny with Ray Charles in 1981, Sherrill got them back together again in 1984. This weepy ballad works quite well. Available on The Legend and Singles Plus.

She Used to Love Me a Lot (Elvis Costello Mix) - Elvis modernizes the track for 2014, offering a moody. It's interesting, but nowhere near as gripping as Rubin's work. A bonus track on Out Among the Stars.

Read this and other reviews on my blog: raisemyglasstothebside at wordpress dot com
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I'd go with all the other reviewers; almost always do. This is a very good record, and when you compare it to the mindless sludge of the current whatever the eff it is that is Country these days, the stuff that our dear Dale Watson regularly disses, meaning Mr Vegas to be Blake Ess, it's kind of a beacon to a distant shore, and a much richer, far more fertile land.

The song choices are all great. The sense of humor rattles through a lot of the pieces, actually...I was thinking of the payoff on I told you who it was.... I think we all know it was DP. (Oh my.) The Minnie Pearl bit is priceless. And remember that this is the man who did a lot of humorous songs, including a dog and a deranged men with a silly name. Humor is the road to enlightenment.

Not to bore you. These are excellent songs, to a piece, and John Carter did a superior job of curating them. The voice is everything you'd want from Cash and more. If you listen to his slides down notes, amazing. Hitting the notes head on first off. Amazing. The gravitas of a man who's been to the underworld and resurfaced more or less intact, amazing. I don't think one song has sent as many chills down my spine as "She used to love me a lot." There is no better song about regret, ever, in the canon of popular music.

So when all is said and done, this is a must have record for any Cash fan, or anyone interested in how great storytelling songs, sung by a great storyteller, matter. And they do and will.

Oh. And the Costello remix is something that ought to be on some soundtrack, movie or TV, because it's got the eerie quality that makes for perfect titles. Somebody do this. And somebody do a total remix CD of Cash, a la Costello, because that voice can carry about anything you twist around it. Nobody else can do what Cash did to put trouble to mind to voice.

I miss you, Johnny and June. Wish we'd met. I'll always remember seeing you up close at the Pantages, and the nod Joe Strummer and I gave each other, coming in and out of the bar during the intermission. Everyone knew we were in the presence. And sitting right behind Tom Petty as he howled applause. It was magic. Memory matters.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
If you like any of Johnny's mid 70's to mid 80's period stuff you will love this. Out among the stars sounds exactly like most of those titles...ONLY BETTER. This album really benefits from the extra care/time that was obviously taken with this release given its current stature...the usual four or five throw away tunes that populated most of his albums from this period aren't here and the sound is ABSOLUTELY GLORIOUS. Best of all, Johnny is on the top of his game throughout..his singing is fantastic. That being said, potential buys should note that album this definitely doesn't sound like the man in black of the American years...nor does he sound like the hard core troubadour of the 60's...this is Johnny in his middle aged prime simply belting out a good mix of commercial tunes like the complete pro he was. So this isn't a some lost masterpiece but it definitely isn't a recycled piece of junk either...it is simply a great mid period Johnny Cash Album...which is more than good enough for me...I hope they find some more of these!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2014
Though it is impossible not to love all the later Rick Rubin recordings, THIS is real Johnny Cash with all of his strength, security, and recording purity in is early 50s. This is the Cash we knew before it was cool to know Cash.

I had heard most of these tracks from before, from former Alabama Attorney General Troy’s Kings syndicated Johnny Cash radio program; but none of these were ever available. Now they are.

This album is a flashback, a tribute, and just a fine recording. This melding of the genius of Billy Sherrill and the perfection of J.R. makes me even angrier at Columbia Records for dumping him but even happier that he existed.

By the time these cuts were recorded in the early 1980s, I was long gone from Nashville and had not been to Old Hickory Lake in a decade; but this fine CD reminds me of why J.R. was much more than a friend. This is why he was Johnny Cash.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2014
This is amazing and classic Johnny Cash. Thank you to his son who shared these unreleased songs. I hope there will be a volume two. The duets with June are just as wonderful. It is a shame that the recording studios chose not to support Mr. Cash in his later years. He is true country, unlike many of the pop country stars of today. They are wonderful but Johnny Cash is classis, down to earth country. I would highly recommend purchasing this CD.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2014
Commercially, the 80's were a dark time for Johnny Cash. Still I think it's a decade where Cash was in top form and vocally sounded his best! He certainly is in top form and sounds great on Out Among The Stars! Right from the very listen I would easily put this up against any Johnny Cash album from the 80's and think that it could possibly be his best from that decade! In fact several tracks o this album are simply great cuts regardless or decade or album. This is certainly a must have for any serious Johnny Cash fan but even casual fans will enjoy what is really a very worthy album!
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