Review – Johnny Cash’s “She Used To Love Me A Lot”

January 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  22 Comments

johnny-cash-out-among-the-starsBetween 1981 and 1984, Johnny Cash recorded an album with the legendary Hall of Fame producer Billy Sherrill called Out Among The Stars that was subsequently shelved by Columbia Records and lost to the world until the masters were recently discovered during a search for archival Cash material. The album in its entirety is scheduled to be released on March 25th, and ahead of the release we have a chance to hear the song “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming.

Learned country fans will recognize “She Used To Love Me A Lot” as a David Allan Coe single released in early December of 1984 off his album Darlin’ Darlin’. That version of the song also emanated from Columbia Records, with Billy Sherrill as producer, though it’s probably not fair to call Cash’s version a cover of David Allan Coe because Cash’s version was very likely recorded first.

david-allan-coeIn the mid 80′s, David Allan Coe was experiencing a resurgence of interest in his career, and Darlin’ Darlin’ was a strange project for him, heavily produced in the Billy Sherrill style, and consisting mostly of songs written by others. Sherrill’s approach with Coe was to showcase his often-overlooked vocal prowess through the selection of compositions, and Coe’s version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” lives up to that charge, with a stellar vocal performance that communicates a great sense of pain through the song’s structure and the dark, minor chords, overriding any concerns about the heavy production hand Sherrill employed. The song eventually reached #11 on the Billboard country charts.

If Out Among The Stars had been released in its time, David Allan Coe many have never cut “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” and it would be Cash’s version that all others would be measured against. But instead it is Coe who defines the established expectations and prejudices our ears cling to when we become comfortable with a version of a song.

johnny-cashCash’s interpretation is certainly a more earthy, acoustic, and grounded take, driven by a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a spirited mandolin handled by a young Marty Stuart, with the drums completely spared for some light percussion. Coe’s version hinged more on a thumping, Outlaw-esque bass drum beat and driving electric bass guitar, with the acoustic guitar along for the ride and drums filling the chorus. Coe is also more active in the verses with his cadence and range, where Cash seems to focus more on the conveyance of the story.

There’s the potential that some parts of the Cash recording were “fortified” after the fact, as archivists have said happened in a respectful manner as this album was being brought back to life. But the production and approach to “She Used To Love Me A Lot” is both tasteful and timeless; not striking the ear as indicative of any era as sometimes can be the concern with archive recordings.

Johnny Cash is blessed like few others with a warmly familiar timbre to his voice making anything he touches sound like mastery. To be afforded any new music from Cash a decade-plus after his death feels like a blessing in itself and best not heavily scrutinized. Nonetheless, even with a critical ear, there’s little to not love with this song.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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22 Comments to “Review – Johnny Cash’s “She Used To Love Me A Lot””

  • Very good, almost American recordings sound from a dark time in his career. I wonder if that was post-production.

    Trig, have you read the most recent Johnny Cash biography?

    • No, not yet. My pile of books to read is almost outpacing my pile of albums to listen to. I’m on the Tompall Glaser biography at the moment.

      • Johnny Cash: The Life is insanely good. I finished it recently, it gives a lot of details about the Man in Black that were never really known, including how bad his career was during the 80s.

    • That was my thought, too — it does sound almost like his later work with Rick Rubin.

      Very nice recording, though! I look forward to hearing more from this album… :)

  • Good review. This song is great itself, because of its composition and lyrics. Cash’s interpretation is very good, too.

  • I’m a Johnny Cash fan and this is a good version but the DAC version is a great version.

  • John Carter wasn’t kidding about his Dad’s voice being in good condition for these sessions.

  • Excellent! Looking forward to the album!

  • One more thing of Cash stuff to add to my collection.

  • I’ve never heard the David Allan Coe version so I guess I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I really enjoy hearing John’s voice again on a new song.

  • Love both versions; sound very similar for the most part. I love the production of the DAC songs done by Billy Sherrill like Cheap thrills, If this is just a game. Cool idea of using songs that showcase his vocals for an album too. Great article, Trigger.

  • John Carter Cash actually took these tracks back to the studio and had Marty Stuart and Buddy Miller clean them up and/or play over the songs to “Rubin” them up. The guitar reverb and solo mandolin picking is a dead giveaway – not what you’d hear in 80s recordings or anything coming out of Sherrill’s studio.

    If you want to hear what this might have sounded like, listen to The Baron. Or try at least, it’s pretty bad.

    • I don’t know for sure, but the Rolling Stone article on this song that has a quote from John Carter Cash in it says that the track features a “young Marty Stuart,” so I’m guessing that at least that part was original. We can probably drive ourselves crazy guessing what is what. I hope they have it all spelled out in the liner notes once this is released.

    • Chattanooga City Limit Sign isn’t bad, but the rest of The Baron is awful. Maybe his worst album.

      • Which is why Columbia didn’t release this 30 years ago. It’s the updated production that’ll save Out Among the Stars. Otherwise, dog city.

        • I’m worried about the title track, I hope they were light with the instrumentals. It’s a pretty heavily covered song, but Waylon Jennings knocked it out of the park. Very sad song, but a good one.

  • I was gonna quote Pitchfork, but then I found a better source.

    …”Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas “fortify” the recordings for this release.”

    • So in truth, it features a young and old Marty Stuart.

      • I mentioned that same line in this review as well. All I’m saying is that I don’t know if it does feature a young and old Marty Stuart, I really have no idea what it features, but the Rolling Stone piece seems to imply that the mandolin part was from the original recording. Just because we know some of the recordings were embellished, doesn’t mean they were all embellished, or in similar ways. I think because of the nature of these recordings, they should disclose that information.

        • Maybe the original recordings will be released like the Beatles Let it be naked?

          • Haven’t heard anything along those lines, but you never know. When it comes to a project like this, you have to be very careful misrepresenting the content of a man that is passed away and can’t speak for himself. But knowing who is involved in this project, and after hearing this first song, I’m not terribly concerned about the ethical issues with this, at least at the moment.

          • @Trigger

            I wouldn’t worry about ethical issues. John Carter seems to have done a good job with his fathers legacy.

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