on 27 March 2006
These two albums, Johnny Cash "At Folsom Prison" and "At San Quentin" are essential components of any music collection and it's great to have the complete albums together in a 2-disc package.
"At Folsom Prison" is the more raw of the two and "At San Quentin" more polished. Both together are two of the best live albums ever created.
In "Folsom", Johnny Cash is completely relaxed and on form, joking with the inmates between and even during songs, singing angry prison songs ("Cocaine Blues" with its line "I can't forget the day I shot that bad b**tch down!"), humorous faux-love songs ("Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart"), old folk songs ("Dark as the Dungeon", "Legend of John Henry's Hammer") plus his own classics ("Folsom Prison Blues", "I Still Miss Someone" and "Jackson" in an absolutely blistering duet with soon-to-be wife June Carter). It's a brilliant album that truly showcases Johnny Cash's talents, his charismatic personality and his connection with this audience of convicted felons.
"At San Quentin" is more polished while at the same time less relaxed than "Folsom". San Quentin itself is a tougher prison with more serious offenders. Johnny Cash and others who were there later said the atmosphere was unusually tense and menacing that day. Guards armed with machine guns were pacing catwalks above the prisoners. Cash had to walk a tightrope of emotions with his audience. Playing the new song "San Quentin", which he plays twice at the request of the crowd ("San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell..."), sends the prisoners into a frenzy and Cash later noted that all he would have had to do at that point was yell "Break!" and there would have been a riot. But he deftly plays with the mood, bringing it down with several spiritual songs ("He Turned the Water into Wine", "Peace in the Valley"). Standouts on the album are "San Quentin", "Wanted Man" (co-written just days before with Bob Dylan), and of course "A Boy Named Sue", a classic song played here by Cash for the very first time, reading from the lyric sheet and improvising, along with Carl Perkins, the melody and guitar accompaniment.
Just get this set. Two albums that show Johnny Cash at his best, raw and in front of a singularly demanding yet appreciative audience.
on 21 March 2006
On January 13th 1968 Johnny Cash and his roadshow played at Folsom Prison for the fourth time. Although they had been playing at prisons for around a decade, this was the first Johnny Cash concert that his record company had recorded with a view to releasing a live album. Cash had been hassling his record company for six years until they relented and he was vindicated when the single "Folsom Prison Blues" lifted from the LP released that same year was a top ten hit and the album became his best selling record thus far. He had no trouble convincing the suits that he should follow this up with another live prison recording and his San Quentin gig recorded on February 24th 1969 was duly released that year. This went on to sell even more than the Folsom LP - helped, no doubt, by the included hit single "A Boy Named Sue". This all happened eight years before punk rock, so Cash's mainstream success with these records is surprising because this was (is) raw stuff. Personally, I mostly prefer the live versions on these albums rather than the studio recorded versions. They appeal to the ageing punk rocker in me and Cash seems to relish the freedom from the corporate recording machine and it's insistence on adding cheesy backings to his songs. The recording quality on both albums is as good as you can expect and the occasional fluffed lyric and in-between song banter only adds to the live experience. The Folsom set even has a couple of announcements made over the Tannoy letting some inmates know that they have visitors waiting! (Someone's wife had unfortunate timing - imagine: "Honey, you're making me miss an historic gig, here!"). The songs don't cover every aspect of Cash's career up to 1968/69 because he tailored his prison sets to that environment, but there are some great versions of old favourites, some spiritual songs and even some comic stuff.
What you get here is the two expanded CDs from 1999 and 2000 respectively, in their proper jewel cases and both held together in a cardboard slipcase. This is good - both LPs wouldn't fit onto a single CD anyway, but with all the extra tracks that weren't on the original LPs you've got nearly two hours' music at a fantastic price. Each CD has a booklet that includes the original artwork plus extra photos and new liner notes from Steve Earle (Folsom) and Merle Haggard & June Carter Cash (San Quentin) but no lyrics. On Folsom, the songs aren't sequenced in the concert's original order but thankfully the crowd haven't been faded in and out, so you still get the feeling of hearing a live, uninterrupted concert. The San Quentin CD says it's the complete show and the sequencing seems more realistic. Inevitably the two albums get compared with each other - I play Folsom slightly more than San Quentin if only for superior versions of "I Still Miss Someone" and a rattling take on "Jackson" with June Carter's vocals showing an enthusiasm mixed with nerves. Tough crowd - I'm not sure about Cash's motives, playing to these murderers (and worse). There's a mention in the liner notes of giving hope to the hopeless and redemption to the sinners. You may feel that an orphanage would be more deserving of a free concert given by a big country star... but then you wouldn't get the same rowdy reception that electrifies these recordings. Never mind a ring of fire, Cash and his band must have had balls of steel to play to these crowds.
Johnny Cash commanded a lot of respect from the inmates - I can't think of anyone else who could successfully play gigs in maximum security jails during the turbulent late sixties (Elvis? The Rolling Stones?) and look like they mean it. As much as the prisoners respected Cash, you can still feel the tension. When Cash sings "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" a massive cheer goes up. That'll be their idea of a good time, then. Gulp. The fact that you can hear Cash touch these men with just his voice and guitar on "Send A Picture Of Mother", his voice almost breaking at the end, or get the crowd stomping their blues away for just a few minutes of "San Quentin" makes you realise what a special talent Cash had - the ability to communicate. You don't need to be a country music fan to enjoy this, but if you're looking for an introduction to Johnny Cash I'd say start with the 4CD "The Legend" box set which is a bargain from Amazon. If you want to experience the real deal as fictionalised in the excellent 2006 movie "Walk The Line", then "At Folsom Prison / At San Quentin" is the one for you and at this price (at almost any price) this is a must-have package.
on 29 December 2006
The recent film Walk The Line tells the story. After years of pill popping and declining sales, a newly clean Johnny Cash plans his comeback. Rather than making a new record with contemporary late 60s influences as his record company wish, Johnny resolutely decides to record a live album at the notorious Folsom Prison with his classic sound. As usual, the artist is right and, aided by Cash's deep resonance with the plight of the inmates, Folsom Prison is a massive, career reviving success. A few months later a second equally successful live album from San Quentin jail is recorded and released. This brilliant package collects together the full concerts of both performances and is enhanced further by extensive liner notes.
A major theme of the songs performed at both concerts is the plight of the blue-collar man who has fallen on to the wrong side of the law, sometimes but not always under circumstances beyond his control. Not surprisingly, the prison audience relate well to such sentiments yet it is Cash's between song banter and the sense that he has been there which strike the biggest artist-audience bond. Only Bruce Springsteen and Christy Moore come close in displaying such genuine empathy with the working man.
Despite the albums being recorded only months apart, there is virtually no track overlap and highlights a plenty. The Folsom Prison LP begins appropriately enough with Folsom Prison Blues with other highpoints including the intense 25 Minutes To Go, Orange Blossom Special and a duet of the brilliant Jackson with Cash's soon to be wife June Carter. There is also welcome humour with the daft Dirty Old Egg Suckin' Dog and increasingly ridiculous metaphors of Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart.
Humour is also very much present on the San Quentin LP which features Johnny's unveiling of A Boy Named Sue, a song which became one of his most famous recordings. Other highlights include the classics Ring Of Fire and I Walk The Line as well as Bob Dylan's Wanted Man and a nice spiritual departure with He Turned The Water Into Wine. The San Quentin set also features a new Cash-penned song about San Quentin prison which the audience like so much that they demand an immediate repeat performance. Being the full concert, the San Quentin LP of course includes both versions...
Given the lavish packaging they deserve, these two seminal LPs are among the very best live albums ever recorded. With classic but simple and disciplined songs and a special rapport with his audience, they show Johnny Cash at his peak, doing what he does best. A blue collar hero indeed.
I had both the Folsom Prison and the San Quentin live albums seperately and both were very good. I therefore hesitated about buying this package. However, I bought this and it is much better. Both CDs have been very well produced. The sound quality is excellent. The hugely irritating bleep on A Boy Named Sue has been removed. Both include never before released tracks and dialogue from Cash and a result the excitement and tension of both concerts can really be felt. The CDs almost make you feel that you are at both concerts. This is Cash at his peak. This package is superb, great value and very highly recommended.
on 9 April 2006
Two defining moments in the career of Cash, and the development of music to the masses.
The production of these disks is excelent, the sleeve notes cover everything the casual listener could wish for and the music is great fun.
How Cash pulled off these performances has always invoked wonder. I could never understand how the authorities thought they could control the crowd, but Cash had them eating out the palm of his hands.
These disks are an essential addition to any music collection.
on 11 July 2000
What a treat! Two of John's best albums on one cd, and at such an affordable price. This is as good as Johnny Cash gets. His two performances inside the walls of two notorious U.S. prisons, in one of which he himself served time; this cd is a must have for any country music enthusiast. The voice is raw and passionate, and the reaction of the crowd in the background only heightens one's enjoyment. Buy it!
on 2 April 2006
Most Johnny Cash fans will be more than a little aware of his championing of the underdog to the extent that he visited prisons to cheer up the inconsolable.
Where to start? The Folsom concert is almost legendary given Folsom Prison Blues. The tension and intimacy captured by this concert is real hooks in the face and heart stuff.
San Quentin is almighty and earth-shattering. The inclusion of the audience asides makes it all the more valid. Sometimes these make me feel the same kind of buzz as early Billy Connolly flirting deliciously with his audiences.
There are some heart-stoppers. Some poor prisoner shouts out "Where's Luther?" and Johnny asks all to cheer the deceased guitarist to tumultuous applause. But the initial performance of San Quentin explodes everything. How many people can say they've made the doomed feel so alive?
Johnny Cash was a legendary figure of American music who often seemed the embodiment of an prophet from the Old Testament (and not one of the happier ones at that). With his passing there is a natural impulse to want to listen to the man and his music, but we really should resist the impulse to take the easy way out and listen to one of the greatest hits collections of The Man in Black (after all, the first Johnny Cash hits album came out forty years ago). Instead you track done one of the superb albums that he put out during his music career. From that perspective "At Folsom Prison" and "At San Quentin" are the two quintessential Johnny Cash albums from what ended up being the "early" part of one of the great careers in American music. Both albums were recorded live in front of eager audiences of prison inmates in the late 1960s and provide ample proof of why Cash was one of the most imposing and influential figures in country music. This CD presents 25 of the 37 tracks from those two albums and unless you know where one album ends and the next begins you would not think these concerts were recorded three years apart.
Part of the reason these were great albums was because Cash clearly plays to his audience, singing songs about prison, crime and murder, loss and regret, mother and God, and most importantly loneliness. There is no sugarcoating of the harsh realities of prison life in these songs as Cash sings the songs of the gospel of darkness and rage. Cash's singing is truly authentic (you can feel him feeding off of his audience) and the result is compelling cathartic. This is not an album filled with hits although there are certainly several recognizable songs: "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Still Miss Someone," and a duet of "Jackson" with June Carter Cash. But it will be the ones you might never have heard before, such as "I Got Stripes," that stand out in your mind after listening to the album.
What remains constant on both of these albums is Cash's ability to feed off of his captive audience. When he plays to these prisoners you do not doubt for a second that he is one of them, a larger than life outlaw, even though the only time he spent behind bars was in a drunk tank. Cash is clearly on the edge as he rips his way through jailhouse ballads like "Starkville City Jail" and "San Quentin" along with old hits like "I Walk the Line." But it is when Cash sings "A Boy Named Sue," a song written by Shel Silverstein, that he shows his absolutely mastery (the rest of us were just shocked by a hit record with a "bleep" on it).
These have both been legendary albums for decades and overall this is a nice collection of the best of both. Everyone will have an omission to complain about (e.g., no "Ring of Fire"?), but then true fans of the Man in Black and his music will already own both of these albums and the remastered versions with the additional tracks at that. But getting this many tracks from both albums on one CD is still both a treat and a tribute, and if you were going to only pick one classic Johnny Cash album to have in your music library, at least this one keeps you from having to flip a coin to choose between "At Folsom Prison" and "At San Quentin" (FYI: the former is just a shade better).
on 26 September 2007
For starters you get two albums for the price of one. And not only that, you get TWO HISTORICAL records.
Live at Folsom and Live at St Quentin are two live albums like nothing I've listened to before.
Musically, the albums do not have much to get excited about; guitar, bass and drums with very basic country style rythms underpinning Cash's voice.
Having said that, you don't buy this stuff for the music, you buy it for the stories, for each song is more than just a few lyrics thrown togethers, they are tales, morals and poems on their own right. "Cocaine Blues", "Starkville City Jail", "St Quentin", "A Boy Named Sue", there is enough material there to evolve each song into a different movie.
The rapport Cash builds with the prisiones is unmatched on any other live album, he doesn't preach, he doesn't pass judgement, he is simply telling stories which quite likely could be the stories of their lives.
At Folsom sounds more polished, Cash's voices brushes perfection and the album feels tighter than At St Quentin. However, At St Quentin has all the classics and maybe just for that has an edge over At Folsom, even though the execution of classics such as "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Still Miss Someone" sound better on the former.
Both records are a permanent fixture on my MP3 player.
on 3 June 2012
Like many I discovered Johnny Cash properly following the excellant "Walk The Line" movie although I was aware of his contribtiution in the those early pioneering days at Sun. This prompted me to get the "Legend of Johnny Cash" album that came out shortly afterwards.
These two concerts are excellant. San Quentin is the best one as this as this feels more familiar of the two and Folsom has a more specialised American Country feel to it.
For those like me who may only have seen the film and bough the "Legend" CD afterwards this combined CD set is highly recommended and worthy of it's historical standing.
**A few months on after listening to these concerts a good few times all I can add is that the more I listen the better they get. I've now upgraded my initial rating from 4* to 5* and can't imagine how I could have rated this less than 5* in the first place!