At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition
5 out of 5 stars
It is quite something when an artist’s entire career can be linked to one seminal moment. For Johnny Cash the single most important day of his numerous musical achievements took place on January 13, 1968 when he entered Folsom Prison to play two concerts and record his now legendary live album At Folsom Prison. Now fully expanded into a two-disc, one DVD box set, At Folsom Prison can finally be celebrated in all its raw glory.
Legend has it that while Cash was serving abroad in the United States Air Force he saw the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison and was so inspired he wrote the song “Folsom Prison Blues,” which became Cash’s big hit in 1955. So fitting is it that from within those walls, over a decade later, Cash would turn himself into a country legend and set a live album standard that has yet to be duplicated in country music.
For the 2008 Legacy Edition, Sony Legacy went into their archives, pulled all the master tapes for both full concerts and went above and beyond. The new remastered box set features the entire 65-minute first show, which made up most of the 16-track original album, the entire 75-minute second show, most of which was shelved by the original album producer Bob Johnston, and a DVD documentary taking you behind the scenes as the show unfolded. For Cash fans, Sony Legacy has finally opened up the gold mine.
The first thing that stands out with At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition is the sheer amount of material that has never surfaced before, until now. There are seven unreleased tracks from the first show, including Carl Perkins opening the show with a high energy “Blue Suede Shoes” and a cover duet with Cash and June Carter on Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman.” The second disc, featuring the entire second show, has 26 tracks with a staggering 24 of them previously unreleased.
One thing is clear about the unreleased second show, the band is looser and more energetic, and the crowd is much more rowdy. It makes one wonder why some of these tracks were not used in place of the tracks from the first show on the original release. The second show is clearly not a throw-away show, and I actually prefer it to the first, having listened to both multiple times.
Also noticeable with the new remasters is that both shows are now finally uncensored. You can hear Cash explain how he “shot that bad bitch down” in “Cocaine Blues,” which gets boisterous approval from the inmates. During the second show in “25 Minutes To Go,” Cash playfully warns the audience, “Don’t say ‘shit’ or anything like that out loud.”
The included DVD documentary is a fitting tribute to the concert and is worth watching for any music fan (not just Cash fans), but it is not something I would find myself watching repeatedly. Produced by award-winning director Bestor Cram and Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, the documentary follows Cash through the gates of Folsom Prison and features exclusive interviews with Merle Haggard, Rosanne Cash, Marty Stuart and inmates who were lucky enough (if you’d call it that) to witness the show.
At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition has finally has gotten the reissue formula right. It gives the listener almost all the necessary items to feel like they were there in Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968 — everything except the “stripes around my ankles” prison uniform, of course.
— Jonathan Keller