Vinyl Vlog 110

Vinyl Vlog 110

Friday, 04 December 2015
TITLE: Vinyl Vlog 110
A deeper look into the grooves pressed into the Live in Denmark, 1971 2LP by Johnny Cash
DATE: 12-04-15
WRITER: Bill Adams

Bookmark and ShareMaybe the coolest thing about the listening experience of Man In Black: Live In Denmark 1971 is the genuine reality of it. See, the nature of live albums in the twenty-first century has become focused on single artists; modern live albums simply compile a series of tracks which happened to be recorded (often in a reasonably short period of time – like a single tour, for example) and then present them as a celebration of what the band can do – not necessarily what they do every night. That isn’t the case here though – what listeners get is a document of one night on tour with Johnny Cash with all the other acts associated with the show included. Because of that, Live In Denmark 1971 is a very different kind of experience, and it takes a minute or two to really get acclimated to the difference.

In stark contrast to how concerts are organized now, because he was the headliner, Live In Denmark begins with Johnny Cash taking the stage to the sound of great fanfare – but the surprises keep coming as the singer opens with “A Boy Named Sue” (which is normally relegated either to late-in-the-set performance, if not as the closer) and performs the song in a way which could almost be construed as gentle. In contrast to the way the song sounded at Folsom Prison [which could easily be regarded as the definitive live performance of the tune –ed], this performance feels almost reserved and urbane because Cash does not project his voice at any point and there are no stray sparks of chaos anywhere to be found. Simply put, “Boy Names Sue” has been sanitized for Communism’s protection here, but still plays well – if not energetically.

While the set’s opener could be characterized as “competently professional” at best, Cash soldiers on undaunted and does present far, far better performances of “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” and “I Walk The Line” before vacating the stage for Carl Perkins.

“Wait – what,” you ask? “Three songs and Cash is off?”

Such is the nature of a revue show, reader. At the height of their popularity, performances like this regularly took on a sort of tent revival air – and this one is no different. In that spirit, Perkins knocks out two songs (yes, two – and one is a cover of “Blue Suede Shoes”) before leaving the stage and and allowing the side to close with the sound of great fanfare.

In the A-side’s close, some listeners may find they’re feeling a little short-changed. They’ll know that they liked what they heard – 1971 was a good year for Johnny Cash – but they won’t be left feeling as though they’ve even had a taste of the possibilities this set might have to offer; it was very in-and-out with little of the dramatic methodology normally associated with a concert. In that spirit too, it’s odd to hear a performance of this type forty-five years after it was recorded; it’s not band, but that doesn’t mean it feels right either.

While still not perfect, the rolling does get a bit smoother on the B-side of the album because the songs and artist changes feel less stilted and a little more fluid. The side opens with a really cool (both for its time as well as now in the twenty-first century) performance of “Me and Bobby McGee” by Cash, who is joined by The Statler Brothers for “Things Happen That Way” immediately thereafter. The wide scale of the Statlers’ vocal presence makes this old chestnut ring fresh and new on this album and the transition from Cash to Statler Brothers as the focus on the stage is incredibly smooth as the man in black vanishes after “Happen That Way” and the Statlers start into “Bed Of Roses” for a very receptive audience immediately thereafter, and then closing both the deal as well as their moment as the primary focus in the show with a great performance of “Flowers On The Wall” before Cash comes back out with (again) a very pleasant performance (but by no means an over-the-top performance) of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

As they set up Side C for play (if they’re running front to back with Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971) some listeners may already have a sense that a lull is coming in the running of this 2LP set, and they’ll discover how right they are as June Carter takes the stage with Johnny Cash for a performance of “Darling Companion.” Now, this might just be a personal taste comment, but I’ve always felt that June Carter could be entertaining on the right day under the right circumstances but, unfortunately, neither of those things were present on that particular stage in Denmark in 1971. June Carter sounds just a little dazed as she makes her way through the song and, because Johnny Cash made his name as a very deadpan performer, the snog just sort of floats lifelessly until it closes. “if I Were A Carpenter” doesn’t fare a whole lot better as the side progresses and, when the whole side finally closes down, there will be more than a few listeners who won’t be sorry to see it go.

At least listeners will be able to say that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when they listen to the D-side of Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971. More consistently bright of tone than its flip-side, the D-side of Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971 makes back a lot of ground as many of the show’s performers join together to perform. After The Carter sisters make their way through “Song For Mama,” the show relies a little harder on spiritual energy as “No Need To Worry” looks to the lord for salvation. The performance remains impressive because the genuine belief and love in that song is impossible to fake, but the going gets even warmer and more delightful as “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” gets everyone on the bill out on stage for a revival which sees everyone contribute vocals and features everyone playing as well. Listening to it now, there’s now chance this vocal arrangement didn’t take a couple of days to work out, but it is a testament to these performers’ talents that it goes off so easily, even so; here, everyone takes a proverbial number and no one misses a beat – it’s fantastic.

…And that’s the really great thing about Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971, to be honest: even though the sets are really, really short and unusually laid out, listeners will eventually find that they’re really enjoying what they’re hearing and will find themselves inspired to listen again, in the end. Granted, Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971 might not be an ‘everyday listening’ kind of album, but it is the sort of timepiece that’s worth checking in with, every so often.



Man In Black: Live In Denmark, 1971
is out now. Buy it at your local independent record store!

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