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Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash at San Quentin was a huge hit in 1969. The single “A Boy Named Sue” even bumped the Stones off the charts. But 37 years later, here’s the entire show — the one at which the famous photo of Cash flipping off a cameraman was taken — on two CDs plus a DVD. And it’s every bit as raw and furious as that photo would suggest. Cash had, we’re told, been off pills for months, but there’s still a hophead’s dryness in his throat that makes these tunes sound as if they were coming from his hard leathery core. There’s much here that the original single LP omitted, like stiletto-sharp guitarist Carl Perkins delivering a brilliant “Blue Suede Shoes,” and the Carter Family (with country-music matriarch Mother Maybelle) singing gorgeous mountain harmony, particularly when backing Cash on the gospel “Peace in the Valley.” There’s also a ripping run through “Jackson,” his smash duet with June Carter Cash. But mostly there’s Cash, singing lost-soul-to-lost-souls about the rot of prison life (“San Quentin,” “Orange Blossom Special”), the pain of broken love (“I Still Miss Someone”), and the lure of sex (“Big River,” “Blistered”). When he berates the warden for a glass of water that’s brown and then smashes it on the stage, it sounds as if a riot might break out. The truth is, this is Cash in absolute control of his art, his life, and his captive audience.

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