A hum of anticipation ran through the audience assembled to see Rosanne Cash for the first of her two sold-out shows in Berkeley. After more than a dozen studio albums, multiple Grammy awards, and numerous other accolades including induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, it’s easy to expect greatness from Cash. As the daughter of American music icon Johnny Cash, oversized expectations have no doubt followed her throughout her life; nonetheless, Cash has long exceeded her promise, and her appearance at The Freight was no exception. Showcasing a sublime collection of songs extending across her life in music, and narrating personal, American music and American history, Cash’s 20-song set was equal parts stellar performance and lesson in songcraft.
Cash, along with her husband, collaborator, and producer John Leventhal on guitar and piano, split the set between material from her most recent Grammy-winning album The River and The Thread, an exploration of the American South; 2010’s The List, which featured songs culled from the list of 100 greatest country and American songs that her father gave her when she was 18; as well as a half dozen of songs cherry-picked from her extensive catalog.
“You learn that home is a history you take with you,” Cash, who now lives in New York, noted by way of introduction to “The Long Way Home,” another exploration of her Southern roots. “Home is a bigger idea.”
You grew up and you moved away
Across a foreign sea
And what was left was what was kept
Was what you gave to me
An Americana artist through and through, Cash has more than embraced her storied and defining musical lineage, she’s celebrated and bolstered its roots, while adding a wealth of new music to the canon. And she’s clearly not done yet.
And so she sang about abiding love (“Etta’s Tune”), one-sided love (her 1985 Grammy winner “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”), songs penned by her father (“Tennessee Flat Top Box”), a brand new song “Every Day Feels Like a New Goodbye,” written for a yet-to-be-revealed Broadway musical, and a stunning rendition of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”
“This is a song that inspired us.” Cash said, “We even went to the Tallahatchie Bridge.” And then she dug into the song so deeply she had to pause a moment after singing to collect herself before continuing with the show. Cash and Leventhal ended the night with “500 Miles,” and a deserved standing ovation.