Album Review: ‘Koncert V Praze (In Prague-Live)’ By Johnny Cash

A historic musical moment from behind the Iron Curtain.

By Ava Palazzo - Feb 4, 2016
Photo by Don Hunstein
Live album review of Johnny Cash's performance behind the Iron Curtain in 1978. A historic musical moment from behind the Iron Curtain.

So I know I don't know you—and, since I'm a new writer here, you don't know me. But let me tell you: I'm kind of a huge history nerd and a southern aficionado, which is how I wound up doing this album review for you. The only thing better than being able to determine what state a barbecue sauce comes from by taste alone is driving around listening to Johnny Cash. This album merges those two awesome things: a moment in time from beyond the grave and some serious country roots.

Koncert V Praze, was recorded onstage in Czechoslovakia in April 1978 and documented the first time any major American country or popular music artist performed behind the Iron Curtain—Cash had been invited by the Czechoslovakian government. In context, the Iron Curtain was kind of a big deal: it was the physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The Iron Curtain symbolized efforts by the Soviet Union to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the west and non-Soviet-controlled areas.

To allow Johnny Cash to play there in 1978, during the Cold War, was a unique anomaly and a testament to Johnny Cash's legendary status. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to set off with only 19 other people in a small 'school bus' provided by the Czech government, heading from Berlin to Prague. If it was daunting, that doesn't come through on the album. Cash is absolutely on point. And while some will definitely love hearing the live renditions of classics like “Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire”, my personal favorite is the “Railroad Medley” featuring “Orange Blossom Special” at the end.

Hearing the audience really respond and go wild for this American music is amazing, especially all these years later. It's like eavesdropping from a DeLorean time machine, knowing that many of those 40,000 folks, standing room only, had heard of Cash only by albums smuggled across borders. And it turns out that according to the United States ambassador, Johnny Cash's four concerts did more for U.S.-Czech relations than the Ambassador could have accomplished in four years.

These shows actually helped to thaw out some of the Cold War. That's how influential this man's music was—not just to us, but to the world.

Koncert v Praze (In Prague-Live) was first (and only) released on vinyl in Czechoslovakia in 1983, pressed on the local classical label Supraphon. American Johnny Cash fans became aware of Koncert v Praze when it was issued in the U.S. as part of the deluxe box set Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection in 2012.

While a limited edition 12" LP edition was pressed on 180 gram red translucent vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, Koncert v Praze (In Prague-Live) is being released worldwide for the first time as a stand-alone CD this Friday.

Ava Palazzo

My first concert was Tegan and Sara, but it was in a basement classroom of an NYU building with desks pushed to the side. I feel so hipster saying that. My last live concerts were Delta Rae and Sleater-Kinney; my fave venue is Irving Plaza. I'm powered by dirty chai lattes, bourbon, and sweet tea.

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