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Pop reviews — week of April 6

Out Among The Stars

Johnny Cash

Thirty years after getting shelved, a nearly forgotten Johnny Cash album is being made public for the first time. Out Among the Stars may not rank with the legendary material that made Cash an American icon, but it carries plenty of quality work typical of his recordings from the early 1980s, when these songs were originally cut.

Working with producer Billy Sherrill — who at the time was creating top hits with George Jones and Akron native David Allan Coe — Cash breezes through a well-selected series of songs, mixing the sentimental (Tennessee) with the spiritual (I Came to Believe) and the humorous (If I Told You Who It Was). Sherrill keeps the mood light, even on darker fare like She Used to Love Me a Lot, an album standout.

Fans will find plenty to enjoy, including two rollicking duets: a cover of Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On with Waylon Jennings and a sprightly Baby Ride Easy with wife June Carter Cash (on a song previously cut by her daughter, Carlene Carter).

At the time, Cash was a decade beyond when he regularly released top country hits and a decade prior to his creative resurrection with the series of American recordings made with producer Rick Rubin from 1994 until the singer’s death in 2003. But the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s love for good songs shines bright on Out Among the Stars.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press

Missing You

Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben, master of the suburban thriller, delivers another outstanding look at the truth behind the facade with Missing You.

New York police Detective Kat Donovan receives a subscription to a dating website as a gift from her best friend. Kat hasn’t seriously dated anyone in years, and she doesn’t think much about using technology to find the right man. When she begins searching on the site for a possible match, however, she’s shocked to find a portrait and bio of her ex-fiance, Jeff, the only man she truly ever loved, who left her more than 18 years ago.

While contemplating whether to contact Jeff, she receives a visitor at the police station. A young man named Brandon Phelps wants her to investigate the disappearance of his mother, Dana. She ran off with her boyfriend, Jack, and has stopped returning his texts and calls. When Kat sees the picture of his mom’s boyfriend, she realizes to her horror that it’s Jeff.

What caused Jeff to leave her? And why does he have a portfolio on the dating site with a fake name? While she investigates the man she once loved, she learns from her boss that the imprisoned hit man responsible for killing her father is dying. He had confessed to several murders, but later recanted one of those he claimed to be responsible for: Kat’s father.

The more Kat pushes, the more she learns bits of the truth that should have stayed hidden.

Coben has a knack for creating realistic characters that are either haunted by the past or forced to live with decisions they wish they could change. This is a dive-in, lose-sleep and miss-your-bus-stop reading experience.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press

Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life

Various artists

One of the greatest heavy metal vocalists, Ronnie James Dio left an indelible mark on the genre through his work with Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his solo career. The tribute album Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life brings some of the biggest names in metal to honor Dio, who died in 2010 of stomach cancer. Proceeds from the album go to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund.

Tops here is an epic 9-minute medley by Metallica that starts and ends with A Light in the Black and weaves in Tarot Woman, Stargazer and the frenetic concert opener Kill the King, probably Dio’s best Rainbow song. Adrenaline Mob’s cover of The Mob Rules sounds so much like Dio it’s scary, and Anthrax adds a molten version of Neon Knights.

Germany is well represented, with the Scorpions covering The Temple of the King and Doro adding Egypt. And Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) adds a tender cover of the ballad Catch the Rainbow.

A big disappointment is Judas Priest singer Rob Halford fronting a Dio solo band lineup on a low-octave version of Man on the Silver Mountain, where you keep waiting for vocal bombast that never happens. And was there really no one better than comedian Jack Black to cover the classic Last in Line?

— Wayne Parry

Associated Press


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