Title - 'At San Quentin (Legacy Edition)
Artist - Johnny Cash
The 2-CD Legacy Edition releases have taken a number of approaches to expanding classic releases, but none has been so holistically inviting as this deluxe reissue of Cash's classic live album. Columbia's 2000 CD reissue (subtitled "The Complete 1969 Concert") added eight Cash performances that had been shaved off the original vinyl release, but left four more sitting in the vault. This latest edition not only restores the four missing Cash performances, but adds the solo performances from Cash's troupe - Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, and The Carter Family - presenting the entire show from start to finish.
The restored material serves several purposes. First, the missing Cash tracks (both solo and with wife June) are as good as those originally released. Second, each of the three supporting acts was strong enough to have topped the bill, and so their individual tracks are welcome on purely musical grounds. Finally, presenting it all in sequence gives listeners the you-are-there experience, starting with the warm-up, Cash's arrival on stage, and the choreography with which the four acts intertwine their histories and catalogs.
As you play through the two discs it's clear that Cash was not only a gifted singer, songwriter and performer, but a talented showman, skillfully weaving himself into the exchanges with his troupe. Though he's clearly the focal point, he gives his fellow performers plenty of limelight. He sings seven songs on his own, a pair of duets with June, and then trades solo spots with the Carters, Perkins and the Statlers. Cash joins the Carters for June's "Ring of Fire," and brings the Statlers and Perkins up for a trio of songs. The show closes with a rousing medley of "Folsom Prison Blues" "I Walk the Line" "Ring of Fire" and "The Rebel - Johnny Yuma."
As on the 2000 reissue, many of the concert's best moments are Cash's dialog with the audience. Though not a prisoner, he clearly identifies with their confinement and rebel spirit, noting that the British film crew had tried to influence his song list, and he was having none of it. The comfort with which he holds the stage is reflected in the ease through which his songs and adlibs tumble forth. Surrounded by friends, family and his longtime backing band (W.S. Holland, Marshall Grant and then-new guitarist Bob Wooten), Cash's performance is as natural as his breathing.
New to this release are tracks from Cash ("The Long Black Veil/Give My Love to Rose," "Orange Blossom Special," "Blistered," and a duet with June Carter on "Jackson"), Carl Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes," his then-current single, "Restless" and the instrumental "The Outside Looking In"), The Statler Brothers ("Flowers on the Wall" and a cover of Glen Campbell's "Less of Me") and The Carter Family ("The Last Thing on My Mind" "Wildwood Flower" and "Break My Mind"), all superb.
The CDs are augmented by a DVD that includes an hour-long 1969 documentary produced in the UK by Granada Television. The transfer's a bit dull (and the audio is mono), with some scratches and jumps, but overall it's quite watchable. The program intercuts performance footage with prisoner and guard interviews. And though this is more a documentary about San Quentin and prison life than a concert film, it still provides visual evidence of Cash's comfort with his captive audience. Not only does he seem at ease, but he shares the feeling with his fellow performers. June Carter - perhaps the only woman in San Quentin at that moment - seems surprisingly happy (though perhaps not completely relaxed) during their duet performances.
The original edited release of this concert still provides a wonderfully visceral anthology of Johnny Cash, but this documentary form of the original adds another dimension. The extra performances are all worth hearing, and the restoration of the show's original pacing and interplay between the acts are critical to reproducing the show's original emotional tenor. This is a true essential among the vast riches of the Cash catalog.