Listening to previously unreleased music by Johnny Cash in 2014 feels a little eerie at first. But Out Among the Stars is positively startling: a diverse and mostly impressive collection of “lost” recordings Cash did in the early 1980s with “countrypolitan” producer Billy Sherrill, who was known for polishing gritty artists and bringing them mainstream success.
Cash’s glossy version of the popular country song “She Used to Love Me a Lot” has received the most media attention, but the real highlights are “Out Among the Stars,” which contains the brutally beautiful lyrics when they’re shootin’ at this loser/they’ll be aimin’ at the demons in their lives, and the Cash original “Call Your Mother,” in which he sings please call your mother/gently break the news that you don’t love me. Especially powerful are Cash’s duets with his late wife June Carter Cash and the late Waylon Jennings. The latter, “I’m Movin’ On,” is upbeat, outlaw country at its finest, and includes a few sly bars of the now-legendary half-time “Waylon beat.”
Perhaps most notable, however, is the fact that Sherrill’s countrypolitan production — which didn’t work with Cash’s “outlaw” persona and arguably contributed to Columbia Records’ decision to drop him — couldn’t tarnish “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time,” Cash’s duet with his wife. Try listening to Johnny and June sing Let’s gather up our scattered words of love/and make them rhyme without getting gooey. (Legacy)