Written by Fantasma el Rey
In this latest release by Johnny Cash, he shows what a true musical treasure he is. With The Great Lost Performance, recorded in July of 1990, we have a chance to hear Johnny years before he was “rediscovered” by the world at large through his American Recordings and just before he and his kind became total outcasts of modern country music. He stands tall and strong with his unique voice and raw storytelling abilities, easily capable of transporting you into the world of his youth and the dark realms of his mind.
Johnny opens this live set from Asbury Park, New Jersey, with a burning rendition of “Ring Of Fire.” Without a horn section the guitars fill in nicely as the key sound of the chorus, and from the moment he hits the mic you know who is in charge. His voice is still solid and strong containing only a hint of his age as opposed to the end of his career. Not a bad thing at all, just the final phase of the man’s gift.
Next, Johnny eases into the gospel songs usually reserved for the later part of his shows, “Life’s Railway To Heaven” and “A Wonderful Time Up There.” The latter is an awesome gospel boogie where you can hear the influence for some of Johnny’s secular tunes, most notably “Luther Played The Boogie.” The song also has a wonderful introduction about the blessed day that his voice dropped and gave the world the gift that we know and love. The gospel set also highlights the sweet harmonies of the Carter Sisters Anita, Helen, and June.
Johnny then slides smoothly into two of his classics, “Folsom Prison Blues” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Both are tales of a darker side brought to life and made believable by Johnny’s own experiences. When he sings of beer for breakfast on a Sunday morning, you know he’s done it and you know at one point in his darkest days he could have come close to killing a man.
Two new songs, the Psalm-inspired “What Is Man” and the road tune “Forty Shades of Green,” find their way into this recording. The former is a duet with the sweet-voiced Lucy Clark, who sounds somewhat like June Carter Cash, and reflects upon man’s existence and role on Earth. The latter was written in Ireland with map in hand as Johnny picked out rhyming town names, strung them together, and a song was born about an Irish lad that misses a certain lass.
The next five tracks compose “Come Along And Ride This Train,” a set that springs from the days of the Johnny Cash television show and basically tells stories from his life. From tales of his youth (“Five Feet High And Rising,” “Pickin’ Time,” and “A Beautiful Life.”) to the day he walked into Sun Studios to record his first single. (“Hey Porter.”) All the while the signature Cash train rhythm rumbles steadily on behind him.
More interesting tales follow and are masterfully told by the hero of the common man and outlaw. “Ragged Old Flag” is about an old gentleman reflecting on the days of glory that the town flag has seen. “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” is a little ditty about a dark-haired boy who picks his guitar and hypnotizes all the women “from nine to ninety.” Two more folk tales of old are the western classic “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and the train anthem “The Wreck Of Old ’97.”
Joining Johnny on “Jackson” and “Old ‘97” is the love of his life, June, who tells the audience about her husband’s recent dental woes. She has an honesty and sincerity in her speaking voice that makes you listen, believe, and understand. Even telling a simple story of every day life she has the crowd in the palm of her hand. After he introduces the band, Johnny closes the show with his classic love song and one of his biggest hits “I Walk The Line.” At this time he had no idea how that song along “Folsom Prison Blues” would affect the world in about ten years time.
Throughout this CD we get a chance to hear Johnny Cash on stage at his best, telling stories of his song’s origins and joking with the crowd just as he had done back in ’68 at Folsom Prison. The classic attitude of “I’ll say what I want to and do as I like okay” is always a pleasure to hear. It reassures us that he is still the Cash of old, a simple man speaking his mind and singing with his heart while delivering a knockout performance. Listen to the intro to “Ragged Old Flag” to hear Johnny in top form talking about the freedom and rights of Americans.
Today the man’s music and name can still be seen and heard everywhere. I’m glad that this American original can be celebrated all over the world on t-shirts, posters, stickers, hell even in song titles. My God somewhere I’m sure he’s on a velvet portrait, too, just like Elvis.