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Johnny Cash
The Great Lost Performance
Mercury Records
www.johnnycash.com


Just in time for Johnny Cash Day - my most sacred holiday that occurs on September 12 - is a new release from Johnny Cash. The Great Lost Performance is a live show that was recorded on July 28, 1990 at Asbury Park, NJ's Paramount Theatre and features what is probably the finest and liveliest official live recording of Cash from the 90's. This performance was long before John had started his slow descent into unhealthiness, and shows him in high spirits and narrative form. His band is spectacular, his guest singers amazing, and his voice as beautiful and resonant as it ever had been. There are some songs here that were rarely played live, making the performance even more of a special treat.

Johnny starts the show with a laidback version of the classic "Ring Of Fire" before having the Carter Family girls join him for a great version of "Life's Railway To Heaven". Then Johnny boogie-woogies it up with a blasting version of the gospel boogie "A Wonderful Time Up There", which is probably one of the highlights of the show for me, as I had never heard him sing this song. Johnny plays some of his biggest hits, including a stunning version of "Folsom Prison Blues" that has all the bite of the original recorded nearly 50 years ago, and a birthday tribute to his good friend Kris Kristofferson on the Kristofferson-penned "Sunday Morning Coming Down". This song, being one of the first songs that I ever remember hearing on the record player, sends chills down my spine and makes me miss Johnny more today then ever before and this live version is simply amazing, with a grace and power that is rare to hear on live records.

Lucy Clark joins Johnny for the spiritual "What Is Man" before Johnny tells a brief story of how he wrote "Forty Shades Of Green", which is presented here in a wonderful arrangement. Then, incredibly, Johnny launches into a "Come Along And Ride This Train" segment similar to what he used to do on his television show… this segment where he tells stories of the land that the train travels through in between playing sings that relate to the country. He plays some great stuff like "Five Feet High And Rising" and "Pickin' Time" before wrapping up his journey with a blistering version of the classic "Hey Porter". Not one to stop there, Johnny continues with a touching rendition of "Ragged Old Flag" and a wonderful version of "Tennessee Flat Top Box", along with a funny little story about his daughter Roseanne. Johnny then kicks into a twangy and powerful version of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" that is simply perfect in its mood and execution.

The lovely June Carter Cash then joins Johnny for their trademark duet "Jackson", which finds June growling and more powerful than ever. They continue with an absolutely stunning version of "The Wreck Of Old '97" that is filled with quick swinging drumming and some of the finest guitar work of the night. Johnny doesn't miss a beat and June is brilliant. Each of the band members is introduced and takes a little solo, revealing how humble Johnny was and grateful to the men who played in his band. The show finishes up with a heartfelt thank you from Johnny and a great performance of "I Walk The Line" which leaves the soul aching for the greatness that has left this world. The set is a non-stop 53 minutes, but Johnny never missed a beat or lost a breath… He was in high spirits and great health and his energy and love shows through on the recording.

So hey folks, settle back with a pint or dram and send up a toast to Johnny Cash. Let's remember the man for the incredible impact he had on the musical world, as well as all those lives he touched, whether through his music or his own life. The Great Lost Performance is one more notch in the belt of probably the greatest country music artist of all time, and a fitting anniversary tribute to mark the man's greatness. I know I'll be spinning it over and over September 12.

-Embo Blake


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