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Johnny Cash

At Folsom Prison – 1999 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

It's hard to imagine any contemporary country star doing what Johnny Cash did at Folsom - playing his heart out before a (literally) captive audience at one of California's most notorious prisons. Garth Brooks live at Chino? It just doesn't parse. In 1968, though, The Man In Black honored his convictions, and the result was one of the most enduring albums of his career.

Cash's catalogue is rife with murder ballads, convict lament and songs that paint the underclass in a sympathetic light. No, he never shot a man in Reno, but knew the sound of steel doors slamming during his amphetamine-riddled youth. Consequently, the vibe here is loose and profane; with such staples as "Cocaine Blues" and Harlan Howard's "Busted" drawing the most rowdy response. He ducks and weaves through such readymades as "Orange Blossom Special," "Jackson," and "25 Minutes To Go;" slackening the pace on occasion with such familiar ballads as "Long Black Veil" and "I Still Miss Someone."

With plenty of loping guitar riffs from the late pickers Carl and Luther Perkins, "Folsom" still sounds fresh. Is it any real suprise that Steve Earle's liner notes extol it as a best-loved album of his teenage years?