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Johnny Cash

At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition – 2008 (Sony Legacy)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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Throughout Johnny Cash's long and storied career in country music, there may not have been a more important date than Jan. 13, 1968 - the day he performed for the inmates at California's Folsom State Prison and recorded his monumental live LP, "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison." To mark the 40th anniversary of that historic performance, Columbia/Legacy mined the Cash archives to a two-CD/DVD set that gives the most complete perspective on the day's events ever presented.

To ensure that the original live album was filled with great recordings, Cash and the Tennessee Three performed two almost identical sets for the inmates that day. For the first time ever, both concerts are presented in their raw entirety, including duets with June Carter, whom Johnny would marry two months later and stellar warm-up performances from both Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers. In total, this set provides listeners with a staggering 31 previously unissued tracks from the 2 shows.

It was long thought that Cash had actually been a prisoner himself and the music he selected for the Folsom performances proved that although he never wore the stripes, he understood the men that did. Along with his hit Folsom Prison Blues, Cash talked about living the criminal life with Busted; the perils of drug use on Cocaine Blues and the somber reality of a life in prison with Green Green Grass of Home. Another highlight was Cash's take on Shel Silverstein's humorous capital punishment tale 25 Minutes To Go.

Along with the complete audio recordings from the day's performances, this set also includes a feature-length documentary film that gives even more insight Cash's trip to Folsom and 40 pages of liner notes. Not only does this film feature unpublished photos from iconic rock photographer Jim Marshall and interviews with country music superstars like Marty Stuart and Merle Haggard (who attended some of Cash's later performances at San Quentin State Prison while serving time there), but it also includes recollections and reflections from Folsom inmates who attended the shows.

When you combine the quality of the archival recordings with the DVD's detailed look into the events of the day, you have the makings of a very important historical document for music fans in America, country or otherwise. Even if you already own the original "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" album or the 1999 reissue, you won't want to miss this new set - the definitive Folsom Prison release.

Over the span of two brief performances in one day, Cash was able to connect with hardened criminals like very few outsiders ever do. And in doing so, the Man in Black also formed a new connection with music fans everywhere, helping to make him a legend.