Review: Johnny Cash - The Great Lost Performance
Label: Island Records
Released: July 24, 2007
Frankly, I'm not sure why this is the great lost performance. Surely, in a career as long as Johnny Cash's, there were many performances that didn't get recorded or where the tapes were lost. Obviously, this is the one that managed to get itself found, but that only makes it the found performance, not the great one.
This album, recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ in the summer of 1990, finds Johnny Cash on his way back up. He was working with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on the Highwaymen's second album during this time and had just finished working on Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vol. 2 with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a host of country music legends (including June) the year before. He was just a few years away from what may have been the best work of his career in the American Recordings series. This was not the shell of Johnny Cash that did variety shows in the 70s, but a very vital artist. All of this points in one direction: a fine performance. And that's just what was uncovered here.
Cash sounds good, the band sounds good, the audience even sounds good. He hits the standards like "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line" with loose vigor. He includes some of the less common greats like "Hey Porter" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky." He even throws in a few newer ones. June sounds tremendous in her duet of "Jackson" with Johnny. Best of all, he treats us to a few of his stories, the ones that reveal his honesty, his integrity, his humanity. However, at times the whole thing feels a bit too safe. Like they're all going through the motions just a little bit. Granted, Johnny Cash going through the motions has more heart than most artists would if they were singing with a gun to their head. Still, to be great, it should feel 100% on and it doesn't.
Don't get me wrong, The Great Lost Performance is worth hearing even if it's slightly mistitled. Somehow, I just doubt that this would be picked for the live release if there wasn't the hype of it being "lost."