Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison is the rare live album where the audience sounds like it's moving the performer as much as the performer is moving the audience. Its songs deal with topics familiar to the prisoners watching, including the ecstasy of criminal transgression ("Cocaine Blues") and the lifetime of regret that follows (almost every other song). Cash's performance begins as business-as-usual—kicking off with "Folsom Prison Blues," of course—and ends with Cash sounding rougher around the edges than usual. The strain of singing in such an uncomfortable setting only partly explains what's going on with the concert-closing "Green, Green Grass Of Home" and "Greystone Chapel," penned by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley. Cash isn't just singing these songs, he's feeling them.
The three-disc CD and DVD Legacy Edition of At Folsom Prison offers a fuller picture of that day than previously available. The first disc features the complete version of the familiar first show—complete with performances by The Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins, and instructions to the audience not to make a noise until Cash introduces himself—which comprised the bulk of the original album. The second contains the rougher, largely unheard second show, and the DVD features a detailed documentary on the performance, from life in Folsom to the concert's aftermath. Sherley's sad fate—he fell into addiction and self-destruction after being released from prison and attempting to start his own music career—gets particular attention and raises some uncomfortable questions about the effectiveness of the prison system, and what responsibility Cash might have to the men who helped revive his career that day. But for the two hours recorded here, such questions don't seem to matter. Looking into a crowd of desperate men, Cash sings their lives back to them without bullshit or unearned sentiment. They would have known.