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Tracks from both of the classic Johnny Cash prison concerts,
This review is from: At Folsom Prison/at San Quenti (Audio CD)
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).