“It was just playing with Johnny once again, and that’s what it was. That was the energy of the creation”: New Johnny Cash album of unreleased songs has been announced, first single Well Alright streaming now

Johnny Cash
(Image credit: Alan Messer)

A new album of unreleased Johnny Cash songs has been announced, and you can check out the first single, Well Alright, which is streaming now. 

The album is titled Songwriter and was produced by Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, and David “Fergie” Ferguson, and it collects 11 tracks that were first recorded by the Man In Black in early 1993, just as his life was about to change. 

Cash was between labels at the time, and checked into Nashville’s LSI Studios to track an album’s worth of material that would never see the light of day. A matter of months later, he hooked up with über-producer Rick Rubin, signed to American, and the rest is history.

Those LSI Studio demos certainly were. They were forgotten until Carter Cash and Fergie got together and worked out how they would knock them into shape for release. They had a good start; they had Johnny Cash’s sonorous voice and they had his acoustic guitar

Oftentimes that would be all you need but they wanted more, and put together a formidable backing band, including country guitar legend Marty Stuart, longtime Cash collaborator and Nashville session ace Dave Roe, who sadly died in September 2023, plays bass guitar, while Pete Abbott of the Average White Band sits in on drums. Having Stuart and Roe, who both played with Cash, brought some continuity to the project.

“Nobody plays Cash better than Marty Stuart, and Dave Roe of course played with dad for many years,” said John Carter Cash. “The musicians that came in were just tracking with dad, you know, recording with dad, just as, in the case of Marty and Dave, they had many times before, so they knew his energies, his movements, and they let him be the guide.” 

The band, Cash junior and Fergie decamped to Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, and worked out the arrangements. The invite was extended to Vince Gill and Dan Auerbach, who both guest on the album. Auerbach takes a guitar solo on Spotlight. Gill sings on Poor Valley Girl. 

Cash might not have been physically in the room but his voice was, and Carter Cash says they worked as though he was there. “It was just playing with Johnny once again, and that’s what it was,” he said. “That was the energy of the creation.” 

“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,” said Fergie. “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.”

My dad was probably just as clear as at any point in his life and I think that voice, which was kind of ignored at the time, needs to be heard

John Carter Cash

It helped that they had the vocals and songwriting of one of America’s greatest voices to steer them. As Carter Cash notes, this captures his father at a time just before he was just about to enjoy a remarkable second act, when his voice had never been stronger.

“My dad was probably just as clear as at any point in his life and I think that voice, which was kind of ignored at the time, needs to be heard,” said Carter Cash. “The man at that age, at that specific point in his life, deserves more attention and focus because he sadly didn’t get as much as he should.” 

Songwriter is available to preorder now, out 28 June through Mercury Nashville/Emu. Check out Well Alright above – it's a song about falling in love in a laundromat.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.