I think it speaks for either the number or general quality of live albums that so few of them are within the Top 250 list on Acclaimed Music. You could count the entries on your hands, possibly even just one of them. It’s also worth noting that these acclaimed albums are amongst the older ones on the list.
At Folsom Prison is probably the most interesting one of the live albums on this list because of the location of its recording. It goes without saying that most live albums tend to be in clubs, stadiums or some other regular concert venue rather than a prison. Full praise should therefore be given to Johnny Cash’s desire to do so – even if it just meant the chance to play ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ in an actual prison.
The album is made up of recordings of two shows he did in one day, with most of it originating from the first show. You can’t tell that they’ve pieced these together in anyway as the audiences are pretty much the on same level. I can only imagine how much joy these shows brought to the inmates – even if a large amount of the songs are about prisons, being in prison, committing crimes etc. I guess that’s what you get from having an outlaw country singer doing a show in a prison?
What makes At Folsom Prison a good listen is the same reason as for all good live albums: the energy. Music on an album is great, music performed well live is better. It’s because of going to gigs that I finally got Sufjan Steven’s The Age of Adz album (especially that final 20+ minute track). But that’s not the only thing that makes At Folsom Prison.
It might be an odd thing to think, but it feels like there is such an empathetic and emotional connection between Cash and the prisoners in his audience. This wasn’t just another gig, this was special to him and this is what shines.
Now this old style of country and rockabilly doesn’t to be my cup of tea. There are tracks on the second side which began to really drag for me, but that was probably because the first half was the more outlaw section (including the famous lines of “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”).
On the whole, however, this was a great chance to hear an icon doing what he does best and that’s worth the time even if you don’t enjoy the music too much. Or you could watch Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line, not quite the same but still a good experience.