Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

Greatest Live Albums of All-Time

Some bands can go into a studio and the producers and sound men can make them sound like music savants.  With mixing overdubbing and studio artists an album can come out sounding like a million bucks… and it may actually cost just that to produce.  But the true test of a band is their ability to reproduce their quality sound on stage.  I have seen Prince time and time again and every time he sounds better than the last, he also holds his artists to the highest of standards.   Some bands sound amazing live but the studio can just not capture the energy they exert onto a disc.  And finally there is the category that decides it all, the bands that you here on the radio and then rush off to purchase tickets for and it sounds like sick cats howling in the night.

Here is my list of live albums that truly define music.

10. Prince – One Nite Alone… Live!: Sadly Prince just doesn’t release his mastery on disc. No artist can compare to the quality he reproduces nightly on stage. If you ever get a chance to see him, even from the deepest of nose bleeds, you will not regret the experience.

9. Eric Clapton – 24 Nights: Clapton’s hits that he made famous throughout his career solo and with Cream.  24 Nights was a series of performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London that progressively added larger and larger accompanying musicians up to the finally which included accompaniment from the Nation Philharmonic Orchestra.

8. Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan: It’s not often that a song is defined and known by its live version, but it has been know to happen on occasion and “I Want You” is just one of those songs.  The band has since release expanded anniversary editions that include 2 discs of the complete show, well worth the money whether you own the original and a necessity if you don’t.

7. T.S.O.L – Live 91: Raw. Dirty. Angry.  The first time I heard TSOL was in a dingy movie called “Suburbia” and I felt like they were the only ones that understood me at the time.  When you are a teenager with noting but a skateboard no one cares or understands you, but they did.  The album is not that great, it’s not that original, but it understands a whole generation of rather be forgotten youth.

6. Slayer – Decade of Aggression: Slayer has released some brutal live shows on DVD but their live concerts have only made it to CD twice in their nearly 30 years in the business.  While DoA is an awesome album it would be nice to hear stuff from the past 20 years included in a live CD.  If you are not looking for a concert style CD the Soundtrack to the Apocalypse has a great mish-mash of odds and ends of several versions of live tracks.

5. Dokken – The Beast From the East: Easily the best live album to come out of the “Hair-Era” of metal.  Dokken sounds much deeper and full live then the studio gives them credit for.  This was the last hurrah before the band split with guitarist George Lynch and the band went on solo hiatus for a good part of the 90s before reforming years later to hit the summer circuit.

4. Ozzy Osbourne – Tribute: Speak of the Devil nearly made the list, honest to God.  But with speculation that it was a shady deal with the record company and may actually be a studio album with an overdubbed audience I chose to leave it off.  Normally I would chalk it up to rumors but since this album is scratched from Ozzy’s catalogue and he publically disowned it there is probably truth to the legend.  Nothing really needs to be said about Tribute itself other than “Let the madness…. begin.”

3. Johnny Cash – Live at Folsom: Some would argue San Quintin, I would call them foolish.  A brilliant idea far ahead of its time… much like Johnny’s music.

2. Jay Z – Unplugged: Anyone who says rap is not music should give this album a listen.  While Jay is still accompanied by some synthetic beats he is backed by a full band giving any critics cause to step back on their complaints.  The greatest vocalist to ever spin a beat.

1. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson – Storytellers: Not only one of the best live albums, but one of the greatest albums ever.  Everything a live show should be when the guitars stop.  Willie and Johnny share their thoughts and play from the heart.  Willie proves he is a far better stringman and John proves to be humble by acknowledging the fact himself.  Filled with classics, but not overplayed classics make this a great album any day.

The Last Testament of John

Johnny never had the best voice, but his tone is beautiful to our ears; he never played a complex chord arrangement, but his songs are classics.  What separates a Johnny Cash song from that of a music prodigy is the soul behind the words and the guitar.  When you hear a cover preformed by Johnny it almost sounds like it was meant for him but only found its way through the hand r artist’s pen.  Take “Rose of My Heart,” my wife was gracious to give my our first dance as a married couple to the aging voice of Mr. Cash and a tired 6 string.  This song was not written by John, nor was he the first to reinvent its lovely melody, but of the dozen who have tried in 30 years his incorporation is the most fitting.  That said, John was not a great musician, John was not a great guitar player, but he had the attitude of a gunslinger and the soul of a saint and that is what made his fans adore his music for the past 50 years.

Cash’s latest and final original recording was released February 23rd just days from his 78th birthday.  While we may see new compilations and maybe even an unreleased recording in the years and decades to come, this is Johnny’s last time sitting on a stool in front of a recording mic before he joined his wife June in the great stage in the sky.  Much like the previous album A Hundred Highways Cash labors to keep his breath in many songs and shares the angst and pain in what was once a great booming tone in his voice.  While some may see this as a declining skill I feel just the opposite, his previous album and this new release both share his soul and knowing mortality in his voice.  To hear him struggle during “Help Me” pleading with God for assistance to make it through the simplest of tasks and backed by a great string set it nearly brings a tear to your eye.

The album opens fittingly with, “Ain’t No Grave” and it’s truly fitting intro “Well there ain’t no grave/Gonna hold my body down/When I hear that trumpet sound/I’m gonna get up out of the ground.”  While John continues to lay buried in body, his words still continue to find their way to our ears, hearts and soul.  The crashing of chains sounds reminiscent of a poor tired Ghost of Christmas Past carrying his heavy burdensome chains to atone for his misgivings.

While this reads more like a sermon for Johnny’s spirituality in his music then a music review of his content I offer no apologies.  Most of Cash’s later in life music rang the remnants of a gospel song and many were just that, his music his not only a song, for some it is a gateway to spirituality and a way to speak to God.  If it was good for the Man in Black it is good for me.

When Johnny sat down with Rick Rubin to record the American series it was always his intention to close out his final album with the folk Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe” and his request was granted with it closes the chapter on Cash American which included 6 studio albums and a 4 disc box set.  While John’s old classic may be far more famous and familiar to fans the 10 discs of material that was created by at the time what was considered a washed up Country Singer and an ever-changing producer became in my opinion the greatest works of not only his life, but by any artist.

Thank you Rick Rubin for giving us this final album and thank you for taking the chance to help reinvent the music of Johnny Cash.  What you gave us was the wisdom and heart of a man who still had so much to share.  While this offers little into the quality of this installment I don’t think a fan needs convincing to pick it up, just a reminder that it is released.  A music critic may listen to the songs and say they sound labored and weak, but they would only be fooling themselves.  When you are 17 and you give your first “I love you” to your high school sweetheart it has a different meaning then that of your final “I love you” to your spouse of 40 years.  This is John’s final “I love you” to all who have shared his dream.

Aloha J.R.

Album of the Decade ~ Johnny Cash – A Hundred Highways

If you ask 100 people this question you would probably get 75 differing opinions on the greatest album of the 2000’s.  My choice was all about feeling and emotion.  After June Carter Cash died, Johnny’s health took a turn south and he knew his days were numbered and he sang his heart out with in my opinion not only the Album of the Decade, but also his greatest work in a 50 year career in music.

While 50 years of music has produced far more classics for Johnny no album has ever had the emotions in his heart so clearly defined in his voice.  With every song you can feel the emotion of pain and sorrow in his weary old body, but also the tone of wisdom from a lifetime of experiences that had brought him from one side of the globe to the other, and a life of more ups and downs then a roller coaster on a beachside boardwalk.

When I married my wife in 2008 we shared our first dance to “Rose of My Heart.”

Honorable mentions: Eric Clapton “One More Car, One More Rider“, As I lay Dying “Frail Words Collapse“, Slayer “Christ Illusion“, Killswitch Engage “As Daylight Dies“, Jay-Z “The Black Album

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