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Published: 2008/12/03
by Brian Ferdman

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition

Sony Legacy B001DDCVCI

January 13, 1968 will long remain a landmark date in musical history. On that blustery day, Johnny Cash and company strode into Folsom Prison for two performances in the cafeteria at 9:40AM and 12:40PM. Playing for a collection of murderers, rapists, and thieves, Cash was able to connect to the worst men the California Penal System had to offer. The proceedings were recorded and subsequently released on Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, a tremendous artistic achievement that became a best-selling album, which not only saved Johnny Cash’s then-flagging career but also served to springboard him toward international superstardom.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition greatly expands the previously expanded version of this album by including both shows in their entirety, spread over two discs. Previously omitted profanity and asides to the prisoners have been restored, giving a better feel for the environment inside that cafeteria. In addition, Carl Perkins’ and the Statler Brothers’ lively warm-up performances set the tone for the energetic concert that followed. The inclusion of both performances lets us see that almost the entire album was culled from the frenetic early show while the second set shows a band trying to recapture the spark from their morning triumph. The second time around, Cash’s voice grows weary, he coughs, and he occasionally forgets some lyrics. Of course, these flaws only serve to add a touch of realism to the proceedings. Cash also runs through “Greystone Chapel” more than once, passionately trying to catch lightening in a bottle on Folsom prisoner Glen Sherley’s original tune. Of all the omissions from the original album, none is more exciting than Cash and June Carter’s romping duet on “I Got a Woman.” In all likelihood, had Carter remembered the lyrics, this scorcher would have made the final cut.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this edition is the DVD documentary, which relies upon interviews with Merle Haggard, Roseanne Cash, Marty Stuart, bassist Marshall Grant, as well as inmates who witnessed the performance, among others. These interviews are tied together through clever animation and film clips to paint a portrait of Cash as a larger-than-life man with an erroneous reputation for having done hard time. Of course, such a fallacious story was believable because Cash had displayed such sympathy and kinship for the hardscrabble life of prisoners, serving as their unofficial spokesman. Nowhere was this dedication more evident than his embrace of Sherley, a bank robber who was stunned to see Cash surprisingly playing his song at the concert. Afterwards, Cash took Sherley under his wing, lobbied for his early release, and eventually gave him a spot as a performer on his tour. Of course, Sherley’s story doesn’t have a rosy ending, but all along the way, it’s clear that Cash did whatever he could to help this man, extending the kind of dedication and love that won him legions of followers, especially on January 13, 1968.

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