I know everyone hates concept reviews. Normally, a concept review is pretty non-sensical. Usually it is some form of an interview between two random people and really the reviewer focuses on humor rather than the information on the album. The concept of the review has little or nothing to do with the music. However, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison album is a unique oddity. Sure, artists release live albums, but how many artists play in prisons, let alone one of the toughest prisons in the country at the time? Years ago, Johnny Cash saw a documentary on the prison and the documentary moved him and caused to be an advocate of prison reform. Folsom Prison is the first of a few live releases at prisons, and one can only imagine what it must have been like for a prisoner to see Johnny Cash, a man with such empathy towards prisoners, performing live just for them. This review is a fictional account of a prisoner at Folsom Prison.
January 13, 1968
If there ever was a good day in prison, today was that day. For some reason, the warden decided to grace us with some entertainment, pulling in a great musician named Johnny Cash. Now, despite this man’s last name, Johnny Cash is no man looking for money. This man understands us. It’s almost like he himself has felt our troubles here in prison. Cash is a presentable man, with an average build and dark, slicked back hair. His concert today was not about advertising his music or trying to gain fans; his concert was purely to entertain and most importantly, connect with the prisoners. Today, he presented himself as a country artist, playing some folk songs that everyone knew and also playing some songs he wrote on his own. He came with a simple backing band, guitars, bass guitar, and drums, but they made sure Cash was the main focus of the concert. The backing band, while talented, simply served as laying down the style of the song. They played with confidence and worked with Cash perfectly. Even if Cash got caught up in the crowd or maybe messed up a line, the band found a way to get back into it and help Cash along.
The concert began simply with Cash walking out and saying “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” I had a fairly good position, in about the third line of people. The crowd granted him thunderous applause, happy to get out of their cells for awhile. The band immediately launched into Folsom Prison Blues
. His lyrics spoke to all of us immediately, garnering applause quite a few times during the song. Musically, it was a simple song. Johnny played along on his acoustic, although the electric instruments overshadowed his acoustic. The rest of the band chugged along like a train, also the main metaphor in Cash’s lyrics at a pretty uptempo song. Cash pulled us all in with that song. It spoke to me more than most simply because the song spoke of a murder, a crime I commited. He continued on with sad songs about being arrested and going to prison. He still manages to insert some humor here and there, nearly losing himself in Dark as a Dungeon
when someone laughed at the lyrics. He laughed as well, joking not to laugh since he planned to release a recording of the concert. His joking anger gained much acceptance from the crowd, and he continued to throw out his sense of humor throughout the concert.
Today, Cash spoke to the murderers, the abusers, the drug users, and just about every criminal in the prison. He managed to do much of it in one song, Cocaine Blues
. Cocaine Blues
told a story of a man who killed his wife while on cocaine. Cash sang with so much honesty that one might think he wrote the song and went through these troubles himself. The song takes a fun, humorous turn on it with the upbeat backing feel as well as some of the punch lines. The one I remember was “I thought I was her daddy but she had 5 more.” Nearly every punch line gained thunderous applause from the crowd. 25 Minutes to Go
continued along as one of the best songs from the concert, speaking instead to those with death penalties like me. The song actually came from a famous poet named Shel Silverstein, and the writing is along the same lines of Cocaine Blues
. It told about a serious topic in a humorous way, counting down from 25 minutes to the point of being hung. The feel from the backing band sounded nearly identical to Cocaine Blues
, and putting the two back to back certainly made the feel a bit tired. Still, the stories and lyrics of those two songs were some of the best of the day.
However, one of the greatest treats of the concert came in the appearance of June Carter. Her singing style complimented Cash perfectly, being much more aggressive and energetic than Cash’s melancholic voice. On Jackson
, the two of them traded off voices. Carter threw a great rasp in her voice and showcased great power in her voice. Once again, the same exact backing style came out of the band from the earlier songs. The crowd ate Carter up, loving her looks, her voice, and her charisma. Cash and Carter obviously had something together, joking with each other and flirting on stage. They kept the concert fun and didn’t let it get too boring and drawn out. The variety of Cash, although often reverting to that same country feel, was quite astounding. He performed his good share of humorous songs and serious songs as well as combining the two in a bittersweet mix. I just remember losing myself in the concert, and the middle of the concert became such a blur of fun and music. For that short concert, I forgot I was a criminal and I forgot that I was looked upon as the filth of society.
Johnny Cash found a great way to close the concert. He sang a song written by one of our own, Glen Shirley, entitled Greystone Chapel
. Apparently, Cash heard the song just last night and immediately composed a quick arrangement of the song. Amazingly, he managed to incorporate tons of backing vocals as well. Shirley wrote a fantastic song, and Cash allowed his backing guitarist to take a great bluesy solo. The lyrics speak entirely of Folsom Prison and Cash understands them perfectly. The backing harmonies add a great nuance to the song, making the song stand out in the many songs performed at the concert. The song ended abruptly, allowing plenty of time for tons of applause. I remember screaming my lungs out for Johnny, thanking him for giving me that hour of joy. I knew my time was short, the law planned to punish me for what I had done. However, Johnny Cash taught me to enjoy my time, even if this is prison. I hope more people hear the recording that comes out of the concert because it speaks with such emotion and tells the true story of prisoners.