In 1987, when Johnny Cash made his only appearance on public television's long-running music showcase Austin City Limits, he was in artistic limbo. He'd just been dropped by Columbia Records after 30 years, and he hadn't scored a solo hit in six years.
Understandably, his set-list relied on classics like “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” But the best part of Live from Austin, TX comes when Cash proves he could still create new work that stands strong next to yet another version of “Big River.” His weighty baritone heightens the drama on Guy Clark's “Let Him Roll” and slides into folk-hero mode on “Ballad of Barbara,” songs that later surfaced on Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, his first studio album with Mercury Records. He also covers “Sam Stone,” John Prine's harrowing portrait of a drug-addicted war veteran, changing a key line ("Jesus Christ died for nothin 'I suppose") to suit his religious sensitivities.
Cash would rejuvenate his career seven years later with the American Recordings album. This live set shows he was ready all along.