Rosanne Cash – Escher Auditorium, College of St. Benedict (St. Joseph, MN, Sept. 6, 2014)
It was like a dream come true. Rosanne Cash greeted the capacity crowd at the College of St. Benedict’s Escher Auditorium in little St. Joseph, MN, and quickly announced, “Playing an entire album, in sequence, is something I’ve always wanted to do for 30 years.” Cash and her superb group of musicians proceeded to deliver a spot-on, song-for-song rendition, of every tune from Cash’s amazing 2014 album The River & the Thread.
There was no need to even be familiar with the album. That’s because Cash walked listeners down dusty Southern trails, into cemeteries, across bridges, and back through time itself as she concisely introduced each song and neatly described how it was designed to fit into her masterful new recording. It took no effort at all to feel the influence that Southern music – country, blues, gospel, and early rock and roll – had on her and her family.
She explained how “Sunken River” was about her father Johnny Cash’s childhood home at Dyess farm, and how she was approached by Arkansas State University to help raise funds so they could purchase the property. She spoke about her relationship with Johnny Cash’s longtime bass player Marshall Grant and his wife Etta. Cash recalled how Etta recently told her that Etta and Marshall woke up every morning with the line, “What’s the temperature darlin’?” Cash’s husband, guitar-player John Levanthal, commented that it sounded like the opening line of a song. And then Cash moved into “Etta’s Song” and it began and ended with, “What’s the temperature darlin’?”
Before playing “50,000 Watts,” Cash talked about the influence WDIA radio had on the direction of popular music. And, before playing “Money Rod,” she told a great story about the unincorporated town of Money, Miss. — how you could travel Money Road and find Robert Johnson’s gravesite, the Tallahatchie Bridge, and influences on the lives of Howlin’ Wolf and Rosa Parks, all within relatively short distances of each other.
Throughout the entire concert, the mood was upbeat and Cash was clearly in good spirits. She danced, clapped her hands, snapped her fingers and grooved elegantly to the neatly crafted sounds of her band. For anyone who had seen other recent tours, she was obviously in a far better place than when she toured in support of Black Cadillac. On this night, her delivery was only enhanced by the near-perfect acoustics of Escher Auditorium. On songs like “The Long Way Home,” Cash’s finger snaps could be heard clear as a bell throughout the venue.
Even though delivering the new album in sequence was a huge treat, the show didn’t end there. After a short break, Cash came back for a nine-song second set. She opened with “Radio Operator,” the only song she played from Black Cadillac. She then performed Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” – off her album The List – followed by the little known “Blue Moon with Heartache.” After the band exited the stage, she and Levanthal performed a pair of the evening’s highlights as the duo delivered stunning renditions of the classics “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Long Black Veil.” After bringing the band back on stage, she played an up-tempo version of her father’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” a song she originally covered on King’s Record Shop. The song had her dancing and, on multiple occasions, the crowd joined in with hand claps. Departing from the set list, Cash chose to play “Motherless Child,” the oldest song on The List, before closing the second set with her 80’s hit “Seven Year Ache.” For her encore, Cash went back to The List again for an excellent rendering of “500 Miles.”