Album Review: 'Man In Black: Live In Denmark 1971' - Johnny Cash

The snapshot this live album depicts is Johnny Cash at the height of his powers...

By Jared Olmsted - Dec 4, 2015
Photo by Sandy Speiser
Live Album Review: 'Man in Black: Live in Denmark 1971' by Johnny Cash The snapshot this live album depicts is Johnny Cash at the height of his powers...

In this day and age, it’s hard to argue that Johnny Cash isn’t a timeless American icon. The fact that many of us from the current generation have heard of him at all is largely due to the efforts of famed music producer and artist whisperer Rick Rubin. His collaboration with Johnny Cash started in 1994 and lasted until Mister Cash’s death in 2003. Together they released six albums that reached back into Cash’s long life and career. Like many, what brought him to my attention were the expertly chosen covers Rubin had Cash perform—among them, songs by Neil Young, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails.

It’s the latter that Johnny Cash covered in 2002, a Trent Reznor penned dirge called “Hurt,” which catapulted him into the forefront of my particular budding musical mind thus transcending the ageist tag of “grandpa music” that I had previously put on this kind of music. As my own hard of hearing Gramps would say after he asked someone to repeat themselves for the umpteenth time, “Pardon me for bein’ in town!”

Fast forward to the present. I’m mightily chilling, streamin’ 2012’s Killing Them Softly. (I have a thing for the typecast and amazing thespian junkie Ben Mendelsohn, of recent “Bloodline” fame.) What comes on during the flick? Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.” In this instance, the song could have inspired the main premise for the film; centered on the hired mob hitman played by Brad Pitt. This being one of the many prime examples of how utterly influential the songs and, specifically, the lyrics of Johnny Cash can be—still strengthening the premise in pop cultural artifacts of the present day.

However, the song, being one of the last that Johnny Cash ever wrote, has a chilling effect when you ponder what he might have been unknowingly foreshadowing. Next thing I know, my horn buzzes with a new text from my editor. I get goosebumps, as I’ve been tasked with combing through the latest posthumous Johnny Cash release, another in what is becoming his trademark album from beyond the grave; the live album.

Man in Black: Live in Denmark 1971 is the audio taken from a Danish television appearance Cash made in...you guessed it, 1971. Previously available in DVD form, this collection of live recordings is now available on CD and via streaming services.

 

The snapshot this live album depicts is Johnny Cash at the height of his powers after the commercially reinvigorating live "prison" albums, arguably his most famous, At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quentin (1969).

For this unsuspecting live television audience of Danes, he barrels politely through both his gospel roots and more iconic fare, like the title track "Man in Black". (Can anybody listen to this song anymore without giggling to themselves and thinking of Danny McBride's Kenny Powers character on HBO? Yet another example of this legend’s continuing influence, at least in America.)

Along for the ride are Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, and the rest of the Carter family, as well as rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, who had been touring with the Cash family for some time by 1971. Perkins performed a couple songs on the album, including that infectious bopper “Blue Suede Shoes ” made famous by The King himself, Elvis Presley.

Also on that European tour in 1971 and, subsequently, this live album, are the Statler Brothers—performing classics like “Flowers on the Wall”, (the absolute perfect Grandpa song that references both solitaire and Captain Kangaroo), and chart-topper, “Bed of Roses.”

With the action-packed family affair, the Cash clan was ready with the quick draw, unleashing a hail of hits like “A Boy Named Sue,” “I Walk the Line,” (lookin’ at you Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon), and “Folsom Prison Blues.”

All the while, Johnny Cash treats the opportunity like a VH1 episode of “Behind the Music,” giving the small, Danish television audience backstory for the songs, and even tenderly attempting to speak their mother tongue, for which his wife playfully teases him. I almost melted my first listen through Man in Black: Live in Denmark 1971, as the album’s songs and banter between them make you feel as if you’re there, laughing and clapping along with the band.

 

Earlier this year, Rick Rubin had an observation about the strength of the Johnny Cash catalog on genius.com, “What I came to realize about that whole Johnny Cash experience was that he was a great storyteller. The song didn’t matter—all that mattered were the words.”

And so it goes, melody be damned, the man that gave a voice to the downtrodden will continue bellowing validation to future storytellers, as the tales are passed through the generations, one underdog to the next. This reminds me, I just ran outta that special laundry detergent for my largely black wardrobe. Don’t wanna disappoint Mister Cash and let them fade. Be right back…

Scoop up your very own copy of 'Man in Black: Live in Denmark 1971' now!

Jared Olmsted

Jared Olmsted grew up under the umbrage of pomegranate and oak trees in a forgotten suburb of Los Angeles so small, it must be referred to with a hyphen ~ Sunland-Tujunga. His first live concert was an early '90s Barrington Levy gig... BROADER THAN BROADWAY! [Please don't hold that against him]

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