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At Madison Square Garden - Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash - At Madison Square Garden
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Johnny Cash (Official)

Reviewed by Jolene Downs

Johnny Cash at Madison Square Garden is another in the series of albums that are being re-released this year. While this was recorded in 1969, it has never before been available until now. It is an absolute must have for the Johnny Cash fan; and thanks to Legacy Columbia we are able to enjoy it. There are guest appearances from Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, Tommy Cash and, of course, the Carter Family. June Carter is noticeably absent as she was home in Tennessee awaiting the birth of their son.

This was a terrific album from the opening notes to the final applause from the appreciative crowd. Johnny Cash had an awesome live show, and you can tell from the crowd reactions that he thoroughly enjoyed himself while onstage. After the first 11 songs, Johnny took a short break and the guests stepped up to the plate with their current hits. As if Johnny wasn't enough, having Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers share their talents was icing on the cake. The Carter Family was a standard part of the Johnny Cash Show, and it was really nice hearing Mother Maybelle with her daughters. They also performed back up vocals for many of the songs.

Johnny started things off with his trademark, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," and then went right into "Big River" to the thunderous applause from the crowd. There is no such thing as a bad Johnny Cash song, so I settled down to enjoy the music. Johnny recently made a guest appearance on the debut album of Trick Pony with his friend Waylon Jennings to help that group sing this song. It is truly a classic.

After singing the popular "Five Feet High and Rising," Johnny introduced his special guest of honor sitting in the front row - his father, Ray Cash. He said it was a true story, although he was only 4 years old and didn't really remember it. After introducing his father, he went on to sing "Pickin' Time." It tells the story of people who survive by picking cotton. They live from one picking time to the next.

"Wreck of the Old 97" is a song you don't hear very often and I was thrilled to see it included here. The distinctive 'boom-chick-a-boom' style of Johnny's is working overtime in this song.

He ends his first set with "Folsum Prison Blues." He talks earlier about performing at the different prisons. He said that in 1964 when he performed at San Quentin, Merle Haggard was sitting in the front row. This was the fourth song dedicated to the prison theme. I'd say that this is one of the three or four songs that come to mind immediately when the name 'Johnny Cash' is mentioned.

After the four songs performed by the different guests, Johnny hits the stage again to sing "A Boy Named Sue." He does sing it with the ending bleeped out, but then gets the last word in by saying he isn't allowed to say **********. The audience breaks out into a sea of laughter.

He sings several gospel songs; starting with one he calls one of the best writings of C. Wren. "Jesus Was A Carpenter" has a message and is one of very few that Johnny said he sang with that intent. He asked that everyone really listen to the lyrics.

He sang "Ballad of Ira Hayes," which has always been one of my Johnny Cash favorites. It is a rather sad story of how war heroes of the time were treated.

Another inspirational song that Johnny Cash does is one that absolutely gives me the chills every time I hear him sing it. "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)" is an incredibly powerful song. You can hear the Statler Brothers and the Carter Family helping with this one. I believe it is Anita Carter that does a solo part, and it gives me goosebumps at the absolute power of it.

No show would be complete without "Daddy Sang Bass." I enjoy the harmony and the message.

There is a finale medley that has the guest artists singing parts of Johnny's hits with him. Then he does an encore song called "Suppertime." It is one I had not heard before. He talks about going home because it is suppertime. He ends by talking a little bit to the members of the audience.

Bottom line is that this is an absolute must have. Johnny is a legend of country music and his style defined many artists that followed in his footsteps. He is never afraid to try something a little out of the ordinary and you know that whatever he does will have 110% of his talent behind it.

Song List:

  1. Big River
  2. I Still Miss Someone
  3. Five Feet High and Rising
  4. Pickin' Time
  5. Remember the Alamo
  6. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream
  7. Wreck of the Old 97
  8. The Long Black Veil
  9. The Wall
  10. Send a Picture of Mother
  11. Folsom Prison Blues
  12. Blue Suede Shoes
  13. Flowers on the Wall
  14. Wildwood Flower
  15. Worried Man Blues
  16. A Boy Named Sue
  17. Cocaine Blues
  18. Jesus Was a Carpenter
  19. The Ballad of Ira Hayes
  20. As Long as the Grass Shall Grow
  21. Sing a Travelin' Song
  22. He Turned the Water into Wine
  23. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)
  24. Daddy Sang Bass
  25. Finale Medley: Do What You Do, Do Well/I Walk the Line/Ring of Fire/Folsom Prison Blues
  26. Suppertime

Album cover, used with permission of Legacy Recordings.

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