Johnny Cash

At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition

“Now, when John comes out, he will say – which will be recorded – ‘Hi there, I’m Johnny Cash’,” instructs MC Hugh Cherry. “When he says that, then you respond. Don’t respond to him walking out… I’ll have my hands up, and you all just follow me, OK?”

You’d have thought a 40th anniversary reissue including such preamble might shatter the legend of ‘At Folsom Prison’, revealing it to be less an exercise in genuine empathy with outlaws, more about Cash… if not building, then at least massaging his badass myth. You might say it reveals the inmate whoops that greet lines such as “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” (‘Folsom Prison Blues’) or “I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down” (‘Cocaine Blues’) to be little more than highly irresponsible record label PR. You’d be partially correct on both counts. Because let’s face it, if Keane played some songs about serial killers in front of a load of serial killers, they’d go down pretty well too, right?

Truth is, though, the performances here – and there are plenty of worthwhile extra tracks on this edition, not to mention an amazing DVD – are so raw and visceral that it simply doesn’t matter. It’s a record which represents the point at which Johnny Cash: The Man In Black was born and, even if it does show The Man to be not quite as Black as previously advertised, it still contains plenty of powerful thrills.

Hamish MacBain
8 / 10

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