Lost Johnny Cash songs from 1993 to be released as a new album

<span>Johnny Cash.</span><span>Photograph: Alan Messer</span>
Johnny Cash.Photograph: Alan Messer

Eleven previously unreleased songs by Johnny Cash, which the country star recorded as demos in 1993 but never completed, are to finally see the light of day on a new album entitled Songwriter, due to be released on 28 June.

A single, Well Alright, was released today alongside the announcement: a saucy, strutting number about lust amid laundry with a classic Cash opening couplet: “I met her at the laundromat, she was washing extra hot / I said don’t you need a little help with that big load you got?”

Featuring guest appearances by country singer Vince Gill and rock band the Black Keys, the demos have been worked up into finished versions, and recorded by a crack team of musicians who previously played with Cash including guitarist Marty Stuart, drummer Pete Abbott, and – prior to his death in 2023 – upright bassist Dave Roe. Cash’s vocal performances from the demo recordings have been added on top.

Cash’s son John Carter Cash has co-produced the project, alongside David “Fergie” Ferguson, the studio engineer who worked alongside Rick Rubin to record Cash’s awe-inspiring suite of songs towards the end of his life, American Recordings.

“Nobody plays Cash better than Marty Stuart, and Dave Roe of course played with dad for many years,” John Carter Cash said. “They knew his energies, his movements, and they let him be the guide. It was just playing with Johnny once again, and that’s what it was. That was the energy of the creation.”

The demos were of songs Cash had written over a number of years prior to 1993, while he was between recording contracts. Before he could work them up into a finished album he met Rubin, and became engrossed in the American Recordings project, which consisted of Cash numbers alongside modern song standards by Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, and unexpected cover versions of the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Danzig and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Cash died in 2003 from complications due to diabetes, following the release of a fourth American Recordings album the previous year.

The new album’s opening track, Hello Out There, finds Cash fretting about the state of the planet, singing: “Hello out there, this is planet Earth calling calling calling calling calling / Hello out there, our net worth is falling falling falling falling falling”. He focuses on his own woes, too, on Drive On – which was written amid chronic pain following a broken jaw in the early 1990s – and Like a Soldier, which reflects on his drug addiction. “It’s something that that he wrote after his first stint in a recovery centre – he felt like he was like a soldier getting over a war,” John Carter Cash said.

I Love You Tonite was written as a love song to wife June Carter Cash, while Poor Valley Girl – with Gill adding vocals – is about June and her fellow country musician and mother Maybelle Carter. Cash references James Taylor on She Sang Sweet Baby James, his home state of Arkansas on Have You Been to Little Rock?, and reworks a Cash song from 1962, Sing It Pretty, Sue. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys plays a guitar solo on the song Spotlight.

Promotional materials for the album promise songs about “love, family, sorrow, beauty, spiritual salvation, survival, redemption, and of course, some of the lighthearted humour Johnny was known for”.