Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc, and your pick might appear in next week’s Two Albums To Listen To.
At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash
After controlling his substance abuse problems in 1967, Johnny Cash needed a way to turn his career around. He found the rebirth he had been looking for, beginning with a performance at Folsom Prison in California.
Cash’s motivation for this performance included his own belief of Christian duty but mainly revolved around his previous experiences playing for inmates. When Cash performed in a prison in the mid-1950s, the audience welcomed him with open arms and an enthusiastic response.
Apart from the unusual venue and shouts from prison mates during the show, this album carries weight due to its confessional nature. By tailoring his set list to his audience with tales of crime, emotional conflict and jail experiences, Cash found common ground with the convicts. However, Cash never sides with the crime or criminals, underplaying the seriousness of his music by throwing out jokes with ease.
At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Cash album — a moment when he blends myth and reality to create his legendary bright yet haunted persona.
Tracks to listen to: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Cocaine Blues,” “Jackson”
Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
By 1979, Neil Young’s career had taken a bit of a downturn — his last successful release came four years earlier with Tonight’s the Night, and Young was struggling to create new music. Rust Never Sleeps is an artistic attempt to avoid complacency, opting for a progressive and theatrical take to Young’s live performances.
While the album is divided into acoustic and electric sides, each song is tied together with wild imagery as Young tackles deterioration and the will to overcome it. He recorded some songs in one night at San Francisco’s Boarding House and later overdubbed in the studio, but Young’s energy and thoughts are captured in each of the album’s nine songs.
The album’s highlight, “Powderfinger,” embodies the union between Young’s entrancing guitar talents with his genuine songwriting style. The tale he weaves of a young boy defending his family is almost cinematic in its execution, complementing Young’s “My My, Hey Hey,” when he sings, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” With this album, Young not only re-established himself but also became recognized as a long-standing and defining force in rock music.
Tracks to listen to: “My My, Hey Hey,” “Pocahontas,” “Powderfinger”