An unreleased Johnny Cash album from the mid ’80s is being released:
Cash’s estate is releasing “Out Among the Stars,” an album he recorded with Billy Sherrill in the early 1980s that was never released by Columbia Records, then disappeared when the company dropped Cash in 1986. Turns out Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, stashed the tapes — along with just about everything else that came into their possession.
On the one hand, there’s this hint that the sound and production of the album will be the crappy, schmaltzy, ‘pop’ sound that dominates mainstream ‘country’ music right through today:
The music being released was recorded during a difficult period for Cash personally and professionally.
Columbia paired him with Sherrill, a producer and Country Music Hall of Fame member who was then the president of CBS Records Nashville. One of the main architects of country music’s so-called countrypolitan sound, Sherrill helped push the genre toward pop sounds and conventions — and away from Cash’s more independent-minded ways.
The pairing came at a time when Cash was at a low ebb in his popularity. The music on “Out Among the Stars” is taken from 1981 and `84 sessions, at a time when country music was going through great change.
On the other hand, there’s the question of why the same Pop Machine rejected the album. Was it it because Cash refused (or minimized a move towards) the pop sound, or was it because the album just sucked even by Pop Machine standards?
“Dad was always uniquely himself,” Cash said. “And later on the world would come back around. He never modified himself. But Nashville at the time was in a completely different place. It was the `Urban Cowboy’ phase. It was pop country, and dad was not that. I think him working with Billy was sort of an effort by the record company to put him more in the circle of Music Row and see what could happen at the heart of that machine.”
It was clear record company executives didn’t think much of the outcome. They put out a few more Cash albums after the recordings were made, but never used the music from those sessions before dropping him. Sherrill backed Cash with a band that consisted of fellow Country Hall of Fame member Hargus “Pig” Robbins and a young friend of Cash’s named Marty Stuart.
The younger Cash and his co-producer, archivist Steve Berkowitz, decided they’d bring Stuart back in to re-record his parts with 30 years more experience as a picker. Others, including Buddy Miller and Jerry Douglas, helped fortify the original tapes as well. The 12 tracks include a duet with Waylon Jennings and two with June Carter Cash.