Towards the end of his life, Johnny Cash underwent one of the most remarkable rebirths in popular music. Working with the producer Rick Rubin, he created a string of albums under the title American Recordings — these featured his versions of leftfield tracks like Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ and Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ as well as the kind of the material for which he was better known: country and gospel. By then, Cash’s voice was cracked with age, but it also came loaded with gravitas and grace.
Eleven years after his death Cash remains up there in the pantheon of the greats. Now comes Out Among The Stars, Cash’s ‘lost album’, a project he recorded in 1984, but which his record company declined to release.
Cash was still in the full of his health as he worked on these songs with the producer Billy Sherrill, and what is remarkable is how rich and full his voice sounds. The album includes both upbeat numbers and ballads, kicking off with the title track, Adam Mitchell’s account of a kid holding up a liquor store in Texas.
There is some surprising material. ‘If I Told You Who It Was’ is Cash’s account of a one night stand with a country singer he is too coy to name. There are also two duets with his wife June Carter: ‘Baby Ride Easy’ and ‘Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time?’ Cash might have felt the need to make amends: the album was recorded just after he came out of rehab. ‘I Came To Believe’ is certainly the song of a repentant sinner, reinforcing his faith in “a power much higher than I”.
‘Tennessee’, with its chorus of kids singing “we are proud as we can be/to be from Tennessee”, is more sentimental. No doubt such material endeared him to his country audience, but it also serves to remind his newer fans that Cash’s core constituency was deeply conservative, and his great achievement was to bring them along on the wildest ride in country music.
Star Rating: 4/5
UCC’s gamelan, Venerable Flower of Honey Essence, is a thing of wonder. It is 20 years since Mel Mercier, now head of music at the college, brought the instrument from Java. The gamelan has been an annual highlight of Cork Opera House’s programme in recent years.
The gamelan is a suite of instruments — 66 bronze gongs and metallophones, drums, flute, spiked fiddle and zither — and while it is customary for Javanese musicians to specialise in one or other of these, at UCC the students are encouraged to play any or all of them.
So there was much moving around between songs, giving Mercier ample time to expound on the gamelan’s history.
Past guests at the gamelan concerts at COH have included the actress Fiona Shaw, who in 2012 performed, unforgettably, an excerpt from Jeanette Winterson’s The Power Book.
Shaw, sadly, did not appear this year, but the guest performers included Duke Special, saxophonist Nick Roth, the dancer Colin Dunne and the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra.
Iarla Ó Lionaird could not be present either, but he appeared on the screen behind the stage, performing ‘The Three Forges’, one of the last of the Irish bardic compositions.
Mercier has composed a number of works for the gamelan, and the group performed these on the night. They include ‘Coolagown’, named for the village in East Cork through which he passes each day on his way to work, and ‘The Beauty Queen of Affane’, which he wrote for his daughter. Both were lively affairs, and made ample use of the gamelan’s joyfully clangourous effects.
Cellist Kate Ellis arrived to perform on ‘Fleischmann in Java’, a fantastical piece of music that speculates on what the late Aloys Fleischmann, the former head of music at UCC, might have made of the gamelan. The piece was accompanied by an imaginative film by Jeffrey Weeter.
‘Fusion’ is a term used to excuse a multitude of experiments in music, many of them bordering on sinful. But the Cork Gamelan Ensemble’s synthesis of Javanese and Irish trad, and more, has been a revelation.
Star Rating: 4/5