Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary by Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions

Now that the country airwaves are spilling over with aggressive, rock-styled fare, it’s interesting to rewind the clock back to 2001, when Mark Collie recorded an unselfconsciously rock-flavored but absolutely country-rooted album for a crowd of incarcerated men at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. The resulting live album ended up doing time itself, languishing unreleased in a vault until the rights to release it could be obtained. The album’s crackling energy and inspired concept haven’t suffered any for the delay.

Alive at Brushy Mountain is a loving nod to Johnny Cash’s seminal At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin recordings, with one significant difference: prior to making the live recording, the singer/songwriter visited Brushy Mountain inmates, coming away with personal stories that informed some of the songs he would ultimately perform. It’s clear from the inmates’ fervent response that Collie hit the mark he was aiming for. 

Like the Cash performances that provided impetus for the project, the Brushy Mountain concert features guest artists including the often-underrated Kelly Willis and a crack band boasting John Mellencamp guitarist David Grissom, who delivers the adrenaline on anthemic, low-stringed refrains as well as his electrifying lead licks.

Collie can’t equal Cash’s charisma—few, if any, could—but this fierce, passionate and unpolished update is an album worthy of the parole it finally won. 

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