At Madison Square Garden
Dressed in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2002, Volume 9, #11
Written by John Metzger
Johnny Cash has had a long and distinguished career, and two of his most vital recordings remain his 1968 and 1969 outings At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin. Each of these albums succeeded largely because the tension that surrounded the performances served as a springboard for Cash. Though his latest release At Madison Square Garden bears some similarities in structure, particularly to the San Quentin set, it is effective for exactly the opposite reason. That is — the tension was so significantly reduced that he was able to turn in a looser, more celebratory performance.
Much like Cash’s studio recordings, the set list utilized for the At Madison Square Garden concert was a carefully constructed affair. Cash slipped seamlessly from songs of his hometown (Five Feet High and Rising, Pickin’ Time) to songs of war (Remember the Alamo, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream) and from tales of prison (The Wall, Send a Picture of Mother) to spiritual selections (Jesus Was a Carpenter, He Turned the Water into Wine). Of course, throughout the show, he also scattered many of his hits (Big River, Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue, and Daddy Sang Bass), while finding the time to graciously share the stage with the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins.
As the ’70s wore on, Cash’s career took a noticeable downturn. But, at this concert before a capacity crowd — beautifully captured on At Madison Square Garden — the "Man in Black" was clearly at the top of his game. With songs that ran the gamut from rockabilly to country to gospel, he drew in fans from all walks of life, and his commanding stage presence held them firmly in his grasp. It’s no wonder, then, that Cash grew from a country star into an American icon — one who is revered even more today than he was at the time of this recording and one who has influenced countless artists who were born years after he reached his peak.
Though the artists that pay respect to Cash on Dressed in Black, aren’t quite that young, they do represent his tremendous influence on younger generations. More importantly, the album demonstrates how widespread his influence was — sprawling across genres from country to punk. As with many tribute compilations, however, the problem lies with too much reverence and not enough independent inspiration. In other words, too many of the songs on Dressed in Black follow a bit too closely in the far superior footsteps of Cash’s originals. That’s not to say these aren’t solid performances; each artist from Hank Williams III to Rodney Crowell to Kenny Vaughan digs into his chosen selection and gives it his all. One just wishes the songs were taken to some place new. After all, Cash has already laid down the definitive renditions of his outlaw country tunes via albums like At Folsom Prison, At San Quentin, and, now, At Madison Square Garden.
At Madison Square Garden —
Dressed in Black —
At Madison Square Garden is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Dressed in Black is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box