Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus*
- Here is a KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) Columbia 360 pressing of a legendary album, with Shootout Winning sound on BOTH sides
- Forget the '70s Red Label pressings and whatever dead-on-arrival Heavy Vinyl record they're making these days - if you want to hear the Tubey Magical you-are-there immediacy of Johnny Cash live in concert, this is the only way to go
- So many great songs: Wanted Man, I Walk the Line, San Quentin, A Boy Named Sue, Folsom Prison Blues and more
- 5 stars: "...listen to "A Boy Named Sue," ... rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record... "
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*NOTE: A mark makes three moderate pops about 1/4" from the end of track 2, San Quentin.
We had a blast listening to this album. Cash's banter between the songs is practically as good as the music itself!
This '60s LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Johnny Cash singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 50 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.
What the best sides of Johnny Cash at San Quentin have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the room
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We're Listening For on Johnny Cash at San Quentin
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Watch Out For
Johnny Cash At San Quentin may not be the world's greatest recording (San Quentin will probably never be mistaken for Olympic Studios), but on our better Hot Stamper copies, the sound can actually be surprisingly good. Above all, the best copies will sound real, making you think you are actually sitting in the audience with some of Johnny's biggest fans (who, like him, have a criminal record they would prefer not to think about).
Most of the copies we played were just too full of grit and grain to be enjoyable. Other problems we ran into were loose bass, smear, weak top ends, and a lack of presence.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
Wreck of the Old 97
I Walk the Line
Starkville City Jail
A Boy Named Sue
(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley
Folsom Prison Blues
... a nominal sequel to At Folsom Prison that surpasses its predecessor and captures Cash at his rawest and wildest.
Part of this is due to how he feeds off of his captive audience, playing to the prisoners and seeming like one of them, but it's also due to the shifting dynamic within the band. Without Perkins, Cash isn't tied to the percolating two-step that defined his music to that point. Sure, it's still there, but it has a different feel coming from a different guitarist, and Cash sounds unhinged as he careens through his jailhouse ballads, old hits, and rockabilly-styled ravers, and even covers the Lovin' Spoonful ("Darlin' Companion").
No other Johnny Cash record sounds as wild as this. He sounds like an outlaw and renegade here, which is what gives it power — listen to "A Boy Named Sue," a Shel Silverstein composition that could have been too cute by half, but is rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record...
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