Saturday, July 27, 2013

88. Live at Folsom Prison (1968) Johnny Cash



1 Folsom Prison Blues 2:42
2 Dark as Dungeon 3:05
3 I Still Miss Someone 1:37
4 Cocaine Blues 3:02
5 25 Minutes to Go 3:31
6 Orange Blossom Special 3:03
7 The Long Black Veil 3:59
8 Send a Picture of Mother 2:10
9 The Wall 1:53
10 Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog 1:17
11 Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart 2:39
12 Jackson 2:56
13 Give My Love to Rose 2:40
14 I Got Stripes 1:42
15 Green Green Grass of Home 2:57
16 Greystone Chapel 5:34

I think I'm fairly confident in saying that this is the only live album on the countdown that was recorded at 9:40 in the morning. Most of the artists on this list don't get out of bed before midday and if they're awake at 9:40 they're staggering around searching for pants, cocaine and someone to remove the groupie from their bed. They're certainly not playing in front of a live crowd.

But the audience cheering at Folsom weren't paying customers, they were incarcerated inmates serving time for crimes against the people of California. 9:40 was a regular hour for this particular crowd who could usually be found walking around an exercise yard or making number plates or planning an elaborate escape involving a tattoo of the prison which they'd had inked on their back before hand.

In 1968 Cash chose the inmates at Folsom prison as a captive audience for a concert that he hoped would revive his career and turn him into a country star once again. Cash wanted a prison gig and Folsom seemed like a logical choice considering he'd earlier recorded Folsom Prison Blues on his debut album.

Folsom Prison Blues opens the album and is its undisputed highlight. It's a great song not matter where you are but you can only imagine the impact it must have had on a room full of people who were actually living the lyrics. It's got a chugging train rhythm, some stinging guitar and Cash's deep and sonorous voice laying over the top. It's country but even if you hate country it will make you tap your city-slicking toes and nod your hatless head.

The rest of the album doesn't share the musical intensity but enjoys the same lyrical theme. Song after song tells tale of incarceration, sadness, death and sorrow. It's not a cheery album by any stretch of the imagination and even the light hearted songs have a darker tone. Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog might sound like a novelty track but it's all about a guy who's about to violently murder his pet. Flushed from the Bathroom of your heart is a brief moment of respite and while it might be a sad blues it's the funniest sad blues you've heard in a long time.

Despite the dark tones of the subject matter Cash keeps the tone light throughout, often interrupting songs with laughter and jovial asides which is actually a damn shame. Long Black Veil is one of the most beautiful tragic ballads ever written. In Cash's hands should be brilliant but he tosses off the song in an offhand manner and his laughter in the middle takes the listener away from the story completely. It's a song that deserves Cash's full attention but on Folsom Prison his mind is clearly elsewhere.

Probably the biggest distraction when listening to Folsom Prison are the audience. In a clearly remastered and high fidelity reissue it's possible to clearly determine how artificial the presence of the crowd really is. It's obvious that a producer is fading the applause up and down at points he considers appropriate. The effect is so artificial it sounds like a crowd of cheering and clapping men is running towards the microphone and then running away again. It's especially jarring after the famous "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" line which gets a thundering round of artificially applied applause inserted by the producer. It sounds fake and more than a bit strange. Why are you clapping the senseless slaughter of a man in Reno? You can't all hate people from Reno that much surely?

Live at Folsom Prison is an amazing document of an fascinating morning in history but it's a long way from Cash's finest hour. It's reputation is bigger than the experience of actually hearing the great man casually toss off a few recordings in front of a receptive crowd.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't think anyone should be rewarding a convict by buying an album they made while incarcerated."

-Um... Cash was just visiting to us a Monopoly term.


So do you break out this album often or leave it locked up? Let me know below.



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