Monday, October 24, 2016

Classic Album Review: Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968 / 2006)

I’m no great fan of country and western music but there’s something about Johnny Cash’s landmark 1968 album, At Folsom Prison, that transcends genres, labels, and prejudices. It’s a compelling live snapshot of a man and his music, at a time and place, and it ranks as one of the most significant American “roots” albums of the Sixties.

For all of the peaks and troughs endured throughout his extraordinary career, it’s difficult to believe that Johnny Cash (and band, the Tennessee Three) could possibly ever sound better than this. From the moment he introduces himself to the expectant audience and launches into ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, right through to the closing track ‘Greystone Chapel’ – written by one of the incarcerated men present, and rehearsed for the first time the previous day – Cash has the 2,000-odd inmates in attendance eating out of the palm of his hand.

June & Johnny
At Folsom Prison is all the better for its unedited qualities; Cash’s uncensored exchanges with his audience, the public address announcements calling for prisoners who have “reception” during the gig, all of the background noises, and not least because of the absence of note-perfect renditions of the classic tracks included.

This is a genuine, largely unscripted performance, a remastered* yet unpolished slice of history. At Folsom Prison is the Real Deal.

Highlights include the two aforementioned tracks plus: ‘Cocaine Blues’, ‘25 Minutes To Go’, ‘Jackson’ (featuring wife and fellow country music legend June Carter), and ‘The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer’*.

*The version of the album being reviewed here is the 2006 Sony/BMG remastered edition which includes three previously unreleased tracks.

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