With the advent of his third posthumous studio album, Out Among the Stars, Johnny Cash shows no sign of slowing down, even in death. The 12 tracks, which were originally planned on being released in the early 1980s, were instead red-lighted by Columbia Records and subsequently stored away by Cash. But they were rediscovered by John Carter Cash, Cash’s only son, in 2012 and eventually remastered and released by Legacy Recordings.
Cash worked with Billy Sherrill, a well-known producer, to implement Sherrill’s trademark countrypolitan sound in the album. Although the happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic instrumentals worked to bring the likes of Tammy Wynette and George Jones to the top of the charts, it doesn’t create the same effect with the deep somber voice of Cash. Columbia Records evidently didn’t appreciate the mix of the two, and it shelved the album and soon parted ways with Cash.
The album as a whole is rather hard to evaluate, as the songs were meant for an audience living during a different era. But Out Among the Stars definitely challenges the conventional doubts about the quality of Cash’s works in the 1980s that his low Billboard ratings during the period have suggested.
Cash displays more vocal diversity in his singing compared to that of his recent works, which seem to solely display his more somber tones. But for fans who enjoy his signature morose singing, Stars does still contain his traditional thematic darkness.
Both “Out Among the Stars” and “She Used to Love Me a Lot” are Cash’s renditions of popular songs during the time they were recorded, and they show his traditional willingness to explore dealing with loss. Conversely, he is the most sentimental in “Tennessee.” Cash sings to his mother about settling down in Tennessee and finally being able to call it home, in all senses of the word. Cash also showcases an almost sadistic humor in “I Drove Her Out of My Mind,” in which he fantasizes about driving off a cliff with the woman who left him.
These tracks are indicative of the quality of artistry that Cash has often shown in his previous works, but the album doesn’t contain anything that would further add to his legacy as an American music icon.