After the ’94 release of his Rick Rubin-produced “comeback” album American Recordings the Man In Black hit the concert trail and further solidified his latterday hipster status with a younger audience. By all accounts the shows, performed with a relatively stripped down combo, were riveting, and the first two discs of this set offer ample proof. An outstanding soundboard recording, Unchained In Austin serves up plenty of Cash classics alongside choice selections from American Recordings, among them Nick Lowe’s “The Beast In Me,” Tom Waits’ “Down There By The Train” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire.” Also worth noting is that on Disc Two, June Carter Cash comes out to join her husband for the first five songs, including of course their great he said/she said hit “Jackson.”
Disc Three comprises material recorded over the next couple of years with none other than Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; those studio sessions would ultimately yield the late-’96 album Unchained. Sound quality is uniformly excellent, although the volume drops somewhat in a few places. As best as I can tell, none of the material wound up on last year’s official 5-CD box set Unearthed (which contained some Unchained outtakes). As such, it’s an invaluable collection of material for the discriminating Cash collector.
Cat’s Meow doesn’t offer anything but bare-bones packaging – it would be nice to have detailed liner notes for this sort of set – but the artwork still makes a relatively striking visual impact. -- OSWALD