I own a lot of Johnny Cash music, and before you read on, you should know that I'd be wary to recommend anything new unless it was truly excellent. There are already too many re-packagings and compilations of Cash songs, and a fan could drown in the cheap compilations that relentlessly pop up. From time to time, though, a disk appears that really is special, and "The Great Lost Performance" is one of them. Recorded in the Summer of 1990 in Asbury Park New Jersey just before he began his collaboration with Rick Rubin for the "American Recordings" series, the show featured on this CD captures Johnny Cash in excellent form, with a classic lineup of musicians who know they are supporting a master. June Carter Cash is on hand, as is W.S. Holland, Cash's drummer of three decades. From start to end, he is relaxed and in a fine mood, telling stories of his family, sharing his personal beliefs (as a Christian and as an American) and bits of his own legacy with a relaxed grace that befits a legend.
I have heard many CD's of Johnny Cash performances, but this is easily among the best. Of course, nothing will rival the classic intensity of "Live at Folsom Prison" but even that show has a few ragged moments, and a few songs that fall short of being true classics (unless you think "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart" is classic Cash). On "The Great Lost Performance," the song selection is stellar, veering from the obvious ("Folsom Prison Blues," "Five Feet High and Rising") to the sublimely beautiful ("I Walk the Line," "Tennessee Flat Top Box," plus an intense version of "Hey Porter"), and even a few surprises ("What Is Man," "Come Along and Ride This Train," and "The Wreck of the Old `97"). His choice of covers couldn't be improved on, either, featuring stellar versions of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Track for track, "The Great Lost Performances" is the most consistently great Johnny Cash concert I have heard. If you're a lifelong fan, you must buy this immediately. If you aren't, then you should buy it, too. A Tom Ryan