Until it closed in 2009, Tennessee's Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was one of the most notorious penal institutions in America. Located in mountainous Petros, it was a forbidding rockpile hewn out of the rough countryside by its own inmates in 1896.
On Oct. 17, 2001, Mark Collie came to Brushy Mountain with a sheaf of newly written songs about crime and punishment and an all-star band for a pair of performances that were recorded for a live album release. Mostly, though, Collie showed up at Brushy Mountain with a mission.
God gave me the opportunity to get in there and share something that might make a difference, he says. I believed the songs could matter. I wanted to make something that people could find hope in, or redemption, or restoration, or forgiveness.
His close friendship with country icon Johnny Cash supplied the principal inspiration for his own prison recording. Collie was well aware of Cash's celebrated 1968-69 live albums recorded at California's Folsom and San Quentin penitentiaries. He also knew the impact that a 1959 performance at the latter facility had on Inmate #A-45200, better known as the legendary country star Merle Haggard. Without Johnny going to San Quentin, Collie says, there might not have been a Merle Haggard. A lot of lives were changed or made better as a result of that music. Collie began writing his own cycle of prison songs.
A top-flight crew of musicians was assembled, including guitarist Dave Grissom (John Mellencamp, Joe Ely), keyboardist Mike Utley (Jimmy Buffett, the Dixie Flyers), guitarist-mandolinist Tommy Burroughs (Memphis Riverbluff Clan), Collie's longtime accordionist Hassel Tekkle, bassist Willie Weeks (the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, B.B. King), drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Mark Knopfler), and guitarist-fiddler-vocalist and solo star Shawn Camp. Austin-based critics darling Kelly Willis, who takes lead vocals on two tracks, also supplied backup vocals on several numbers; the late Texas blues giant Clarence Gatemouth Brown is the album's other special guest.
Alive at Brushy Mountain embraces a breadth of American styles - country, blues, gospel, bluegrass, and rock n roll. It largely comprises striking original material, which contemplates the convict's lot with compassion, keen detail, and sometimes boisterous humor.
1. One More Second Chance
2. I Could've Gone Right
3. Maybe Mexico
4. Heaven Bound (feat. Kelly Willis)
5. Got A Felling for Ya (feat. Kelly Willis)
6. On The Day I Die
7. Dead Man Runs Before He Walks (feat. Shawn Camp)
8. Rose Covered Garden
1. Why Me Lord (feat. Kelly Willis)
2. Do As I Say
3. Someday My Luck Will Change (feat. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown)
4. Folsom Prison Blues
5. Reckless Companions
6. Gospel Train (feat. Brushy Mountain Prison Choir)