Cash's first number-one album, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, was a groundbreaking release. It featured a number of debuts, including Shel Silverstein's novelty classic "A Boy Named Sue," as well as Cash's own "San Quentin," which he performed twice by popular demand. He also hauled out one of his best jailhouse odes ("Starkville City Jail") and, because he was a missionary as well as a country rebel, a little something for the soul ("[There'll Be] Peace in the Valley"). Now, 31 years after he strolled into San Quentin Prison as a performer, Columbia/Legacy has remastered and rereleased the classic concert in its entirety, restoring eight tracks that were deleted from the original album.
The missing tracks tell an interesting tale, as Cash performed his original prison number, "Folsom Prison Blues," which strangely wound up on the cutting-room floor, as did his signature "Ring of Fire." Most telling is the fact that the majority of the excised material consists of Cash's musical sermonizing, including "He Turned the Water Into Wine" and "The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago." As a complete listening experience, the newly restored San Quentin makes a great deal more sense than its edited predecessor. The package itself features liner notes from Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, as well as Cash's old guitarist Marty Stuart (who also interviews Merle Haggard here, as Haggard had seen one of Cash's earlier San Quentin shows as a guest of the state). In a year that has already seen a number of triumphs for Johnny Cash, the much-deserved restoration of Johnny Cash at San Quentin may stand as one of the best and most welcomed of the bunch.