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AllMusic Review: To put the performance on Johnny Cash at San Quentin in a bit of perspective: Johnny Cash’s key partner in the Tennessee Two, guitarist Luther Perkins, died in August 1968, just seven months before this set was recorded in February 1969. In addition to that, Cash was nearing the peak of his popularity — his 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison, was a smash success — but he was nearly at his wildest in his personal life, which surely spilled over into his performance. All of this sets the stage for Johnny Cash at San Quentin, a nominal sequel to At Folsom Prison that surpasses its predecessor and captures Cash at his rawest and wildest. Part of this is due to how he feeds off of his captive audience, playing to the prisoners and seeming like one of them, but it’s also due to the shifting dynamic within the band. Without Perkins, Cash isn’t tied to the percolating two-step that defined his music to that point. Sure, it’s still there, but it has a different feel coming from a different guitarist, and Cash sounds unhinged as he careens through his jailhouse ballads, old hits, and rockabilly-styled ravers, and even covers the Lovin’ Spoonful (“Darlin’ Companion”). No other Johnny Cash record sounds as wild as this. He sounds like an outlaw and renegade here, which is what gives it power — listen to “A Boy Named Sue,” a Shel Silverstein composition that could have been too cute by half, but is rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record, and while most of the best moments did make it to the original 1969 album, the 2000 Columbia/Legacy release eclipses it by presenting nine previously unreleased bonus tracks, doubling the album’s length, and presenting such insanely wild numbers as “Big River” as well as sweeter selections like “Daddy Sang Bass.” Now, that’s the only way to get the record, and that’s how it should be, because this extra material makes a legendary album all the greater — in fact, it helps make a case that this is the best Johnny Cash album ever cut. — slot machine big win bonus determined

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Wanted Man” Bob Dylan 3:24
2. “Wreck of the Old 97” arranged by Cash, Bob Johnston, Norman Blake 2:17
3. “I Walk the Line” Johnny Cash 3:13
4. “Darling Companion” John Sebastian 6:10
5. “Starkville City Jail” Johnny Cash 2:01
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “San Quentin” Johnny Cash 4:07
2. “San Quentin” (performed a second time at the audience’s request) Johnny Cash 3:13
3. “A Boy Named Sue” Shel Silverstein 3:53
4. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” Thomas A. Dorsey 2:37
5. “Folsom Prison Blues” Johnny Cash 1:29

 

Schill Score: 8.75

 

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Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)

AllMusic Reivew: Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash’s legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail. Surely, this dark outlaw stance wasn’t a contrivance but it was an exaggeration, with Cash creating this image by tailoring his set list to his audience of prisoners, filling up the set with tales of murder and imprisonment — a bid for common ground with the convicts, but also a sly way to suggest that maybe Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Given the cloud of death that hangs over the songs on At Folsom Prison, there’s a temptation to think of it as a gothic, gloomy affair or perhaps a repository of rage, but what’s striking about Cash’s performance is that he never romanticizes either the crime or the criminals: if anything, he underplays the seriousness with his matter-of-fact ballad delivery or how he throws out wry jokes. Cash is relating to the prisoners and he’s entertaining them too, singing “Cocaine Blues” like a bastard on the run, turning a death sentence into literal gallows humor on “25 Minutes to Go,” playing “I Got Stripes” as if it were a badge of pride. Never before had his music seemed so vigorous as it does here, nor had he tied together his humor, gravity, and spirituality in one record. In every sense, it was a breakthrough, but more than that, At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Johnny Cash album, the place where his legend burns bright and eternal. [This Expanded Edition of At Folsom Prison added three bonus tracks to the songs included in the original 16-track LP.] — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Folsom Prison Blues” Johnny Cash 2:42
2. “Dark as the Dungeon” Merle Travis 3:05
3. “I Still Miss Someone” J. Cash, Roy Cash Jr. 1:38
4. “Cocaine Blues” T.J. Arnall 3:01
5. “25 Minutes to Go” Shel Silverstein 3:31
6. “Orange Blossom Special” Ervin T. Rouse 3:01
7. “The Long Black Veil” Marijohn Wilkin, Danny Dill 3:57
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Send a Picture of Mother” Cash 2:11
2. “The Wall” Harlan Howard 1:49
3. “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog” Jack H. Clement 1:17
4. “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart” Clement 2:39
5. “Jackson” (with June Carter) Billy Edd Wheeler, Jerry Leiber 2:56
6. “Give My Love to Rose” (with June Carter) Cash 2:41
7. “I Got Stripes” Cash, Charlie Williams 1:42
8. “Green, Green Grass of Home” Curly Putman 2:57
9. “Greystone Chapel” Glen Sherley 5:34

 

Schill Score: 10/10

 

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