Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Wanda Callagy
Rosanne Cash is Johnny Cash’s daughter. You can say that now. God knows you couldn’t years ago.
Early in her career, the distaff Cash righteously and rightfully fought to cut her own turf, building a catalog built on melancholy and melody. In the process, she became a country star, racking up 21 Top 40 country hits, including 11 number ones.
With 1990’s darkly personal Interiors, she broke her own mold, turning away from Nashville for a new New York look, sound and mouthfeel. She became something more than a recording artist — simply an artist.
But when Cash lost her parents (Johnny Cash and Vivian Liberto) and her stepmother, June Carter Cash, she turned hard again, for the first time truly embracing her legacy and her deep southern roots.
At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last week, Cash’s roots were showing.
Accompanied solely by her husband, guitarist/producer John Leventhal, Cash stuck close to the trilogy that has defined her recent career — the family memoir Black Cadillac, the essential music of The List and the brilliant myth-making of The River and The Thread.
Cash barely nodded to her own country star past. “Seven Year Ache” was on the set list, as was her father’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” but she stuck close to newer stuff, including List covers of “I’m Movin’ On,” “Long Black Veil” and “Heartaches by the Number.”
Stunning in a long blue coat over Cash black, it often felt like she was re-inventing songs from River for the room (and she was clearly smitten with the hall and the healthy crowd). Leventhal is certainly an ace stringman, and his bluesy, harmonically rich playing was perfect when it wasn’t threatening (as often as not) to steal the spotlight. Cash played off her man’s riffing, and clearly found a groove early on. In fact, at one point while Leventhal was tuning, Cash urged him to hurry with a faux plea of “I’m rocking over here!”
River’s opener “A Feather’s Not a Bird” set a tone for the evening. “Etta,” with its “What’s the temperature, darling?” refrain, was simply mesmerizing. And “Tell Heaven” might have done just that.
But two songs stood out above the rest, making the show something more than satisfying, but special.
“The World Unseen,” from Black Cadillac, found Cash lost in her own narrative, the song driven by a distinctively Cash-ian melodic arc (the tunes on River come from Leventhal, the words from Cash). She sang from a place even deeper than the heart, which is why they call it soul. Magnificent.
And then, late in the show, a gentleman called out for “September When It Comes,” the duet Cash had recorded with her ailing father for the hidden gem Rules of Travel. It turns out she hadn’t sung it in some time, and in moments she was in the same dark but sweet place as “Unseen” — generously taking us along with her.
ROSANNE CASH SET LIST
The Sunken Lands
A Feather’s Not a Bird
Long Black Veil
The World Unseen
Dreams Are Not My Home
Ode to Billie Joe (Bobbie Gentry)
I’m Movin’ On (Hank Snow)
When the Master Calls the Roll
I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me
Tennessee Flat Top Box (Johnny Cash)
Seven Year Ache
September When It Comes
Heartaches by the Number (Guy Mitchell)