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, ...
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.Following through on their 2006 expanded edition of At San Quentin, Columbia/Legacy delivered a Legacy Edition of At Folsom Prison in 2008 -- a deluxe box set containing two CDs and a DVD with a new two-hour documentary chronicling the history of the concert and its lasting impact. Unlike the Legacy Edition of At San Quentin, which captured one long concert, this expansion of At Folsom Prison features two complete sets, one set featured on each CD. The unreleased material on these two discs dwarfs the 1999 expanded reissue of Folsom, which only added three tracks to the original 16-track LP, and with this new material comes some revelations; chief among those is how almost all the original LP was culled from the first set, when Cash came storming out on-stage and tore through his songs with passionate fury. On the second set, he's relaxed partially because he's tired: he often coughs and is more apt to joke directly with the prisoners, he restarts songs a couple of times, and he gives more space to his opening acts of Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers, whose full sets are also included here. Far from tarnishing the legend of At Folsom Prison, this looser set enhances it, illustrating just how deeply Cash related with the prisoners. All that means is that this Legacy Edition is an ideal deluxe edition: it expands the original without losing the mystique or appeal that made the album a classic in the first place. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi