Album Reviews

Johnny Cash – På Österåker

(Sony BMG) UK release date: 3 March 2008

I do not usually write reviews in a personal way, but to do anything else for this album would be almost a sacrilege.

You see, I actually owned this album on cassette tape for many, many years. I played it from reel to reel and almost wore the tape out. I was the only young person I knew who was listening to country music. But this wasn’t your normal “My wife left me and took the dog too” country music, this was the magical Johnny Cash. With him, it isn’t about the genre. It is about the quality and majesty of the music.

After he covered Nine Inch Nails‘ sublime Hurt, all the cool kids took an interest and started listening to his back catalogue. When he died only a short while after, the release of the Oscar winning movie Walk The Line showed the general public that Johnny Cash was, and is, still relevant.

This 35th anniversary release of På Österåker, a live album recorded in a prison near Stockholm in 1973, is not a carbon-copy of the album I had previously owned. Hell no. Not only has this 2008 version been digitally remastered but 12 shiny brand new tracks have been added.

One of the most striking things about Cash is the intimacy he clearly feels with prisoners. From the late ’50s onwards, he was playing gigs at various prisons all over the USA. He was a man who had always felt that he was one step away from a prison cell, but apart from having spent the odd night at a jail-house now and then, he never had to serve a sentence.

På Österåker was special in that it was performed and recorded in Sweden. If you listen carefully, you can hear Johnny speaking in Swedish between takes to the highly appreciative prisoners. He had learnt the Swedish for the phrase “Thank you my friends, I hope you like our music.”

Some of the tracks here are previously unreleased anywhere else in any form, such as Cash’s performance of Sunday Morning Coming Down, and the rowdy opening version of A Boy Named Sue. Also worthy of note is the Carl Perkins mid-set guest spot with his songs High Heel Sneakers and Blue Suede Shoes.

The unreleased tracks, such as I Promise You, a song he wrote for June Carter on their wedding day, Dirty Old Egg Suckin’ Dog, and Wreck of the Old ’97, were all performed without any kind of rehearsal at all yet still brought the house down. This is a classic album for your collection.

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More on Johnny Cash
Spotlight: Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars
Johnny Cash – På Österåker
Johnny Cash – The Legend Of: Ring Of Fire Vol 2
Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire: The Legend Of Johnny Cash