As prolific in death as he was in life, Johnny Cash has released numerous posthumous albums, including two additions to his late-period American Recordings series, a gospel album and almost 40 compilations. Now comes Out Among the Stars, billed as a “lost” album found in Columbia Records’ archives, canned by the label and never released.
Mainly recorded in 1984, when Cash was recovering from a relapse into drug addiction, it teamed him with producer Billy Sherrill, pioneer of the “countrypolitan” fusion of pop and country exemplified by the likes of George Jones. The style was more polished than the Man in Black’s usual mode, but Cash, at a low ebb in his popularity, had nothing to lose by trying it.
The title track sets a hard-boiled tale of outlawry – opening with the perfect line, “It’s midnight at a liquor store in Texas” – against a jaunty fixed-grin of a country chug while “After All” miscasts him as a syrupy crooner; “Tennessee” sets the singer’s baritone tones against a twee children’s choir. “I couldn’t manage the problems I brought on myself/And it just made it worse when I laid them on somebody else,” Cash gravely intones on one of the album’s two original compositions. The song, “I Came to Believe”, is a standout track, free from chintz, but the sentiment sums up the prevailing sense of mismatch.
Out Among the Stars