New Johnny Cash Album, ‘Songwriter,’ Brings to Light 11 Original Compositions He Recorded but Never Released in 1993

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

More than 20 years after his death, there are treasures in the Johnny Cash vault that have remained unmined, despite assumptions that everything interesting might have been brought into the light in the posthumous recordings that came out in the years following his 2003 death. On June 28, Universal Music will issue “Songwriter,” a collection of 11 previously unreleased recordings that Cash demo-ed in 1993, all of them self-penned originals.

These original compositions make for an intriguing find, given that the country legend was a revered songwriter when he set his mind to it, yet he primarily relied on outside material throughout his career. Only two of the 11 self-written songs in the set were ever re-recorded and released in any form: “Drive On” and “Like a Soldier,” which appeared in different form on the first album Rick Rubin produced for Cash, “American Recordings.”

More from Variety

In some ways, the material on the forthcoming Mercury Nashville/UMe release can be considered as a sort of dry run for the American label albums with Rubin that were to come, as Cash considered his next moves between his Mercury and American label tenures, even though most of these songs got set aside when the approach for the Rubin albums turned to focusing primarily on covering well-known rock songs.

The recordings Cash made in 1993 at LSI Studios in Nashville were demos, not completed tracks. To bring them into public view now, the singer’s son, John Carter Cash, gathered musicians at the famed Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, Tenn. to create new backing tracks to augment his newly rediscovered vocals. Carter Cash found his co-producer for the fresh sessions in David “Fergie” Ferguson, who intimately knew the Man in Black’s sound, having engineered projects for the star for 30 years (including work on the final albums with Rubin).

There were backing musicians on the ’93 sessions, the sound quality was was said to have made the songs sound dated. The new cast of musicians that recently completed these recordings for release include country star and historian Marty Stuart, Average White Band drummer Peter Abbott and Cash’s touring bassist, Dave Roe, who died last year after working on the new album.

Vince Gill and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach are among the guests on the project, with the former star lending a vocal part to “Poor Valley Girl” and the latter performing a bluesy guitar part on “Spotlight.”

There is also an additional guest part, from beyond the grave, as Waylon Jennings sang vocals on two songs during the original ’93 session, “I Love You Tonite” and “Like A Soldier.”

The first preview track for the album, “Well Alright,” a humorous song about finding love at the laundry mat, has been released for streaming today.

“We just went rudimentary,” said John Carter of the approach to recording, in a statement. “We went straight to the roots, as far as the sound, and tried not to overly enhance it. We built as if dad was in the room. That;s what we tried to do. Between the both of us, Fergie and I have spent thousands of hours with dad in the recording studio, so we just tried to act like he was there: WWJCD, right?”

Said Ferguson, ““I think this record is the way I would have liked to have made one if I would have ever been in charge of one, before Rick Rubin or after Jack Clement. I’ve known John Carter since he was a boy, so it was great to finally work with him. He gave me a lot of leeway, especially in terms of grooves and things. We went right along the same page. There wasn’t ever a conversation or plan about an end product, it was just let’s do the best we can do.”

The track list:

1. Hello Out There

2. Spotlight

3. Drive On

4. I Love You Tonite

5. Have You Ever Been to Little Rock?

6. Well Alright

7. She Sang Sweet Baby James

8. Poor Valley Girl

9. Soldier Boy

10.Sing It Pretty Sue

11. Like A Soldier

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.