Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Musicians usually get around to playing jails such as Folsom Prison later in their career when they are sufficiently road tested to handle what can be a tough crowd. But folk/county/Americana singer Thom Chacon went the Johnny Cash route even before his first studio album was released, an audacious move that resulted in a life changing show. You can hear strains of that experience in his songs about the underprivileged, the working class and outlaws on his sophomore studio set. With a gnarled, flinty voice somewhere between John Prine and Steve Earle, predominantly acoustic yet edgy songs and a stripped down but full sounding band that includes two Dylan sidemen, Chacon is a vivid storyteller that seems to have lived every word of his honest, rust tinged tunes. The Folsom gig echoes in tracks such as “Innocent Man” where the incarcerated protagonist waiting to be hung tells the story of his wrongful arrest (“this world ain’t fair”). It’s also evident in the defiant mid-tempo rock of “Ain’t Gonna Take Us Alive,” sung from the vantage point of a prisoner in a Yuma prison jail cell, complete with sweeping Byrds-styled guitar. The session was recorded live in the studio and the sometimes crackling, occasionally muted sound reflects the emotionally driven dusky music. It’s understandable that inmates would respond to lyrics that seem ripped from the pages of their diaries, sung by a troubadour who clearly feels their pain and frustration of being at the nightmarish end of the American dream.