Rosanne Cash, Santa Fe, NM, January 10, 2010
Rosanne Cash at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, New Mexico, January 10, 2010 by Amy Airheart Bianco
Rosanne Cash graced our fair city with a remarkable concert this past Sunday night. I was excited to see Rosanne, because she has long been a favorite of mine. I was fortunate to interview her in person for a radio show many moons ago and found her to be witty, very interesting and extremely humble. This was in 1982; we spent about 2 hours together on the air and for the time that she wasn’t being interviewed, we just chatted, mostly about music. She had remarked how much she loved babies and was missing hers at the time, so she talked while holding a baby that was the son of a fellow dj.
At the concert this week, she mentioned that her daughter Chelsea Crowell just released a new record (I will always call them records, no matter the future formats they take) in November and that we should give it a listen. We will. The last time I had tickets for a Rosanne Cash concert was a couple of years ago for a show in Arizona, but it was cancelled because of her recuperation from brain surgery. So it was a sense of extreme pleasure mixed with a bit of relief to see her looking and sounding so strong and beautiful.
Rosanne’s most recent project is a recording called “The List.” You probably have heard about it because it is linked to her father, Johnny Cash. The summer Rosanne graduated high school she went on the road with the Cash and Carter show. She toured with her Dad, the Carter family and Carl Perkins, amongst others. Talk about higher education! On that tour she learned volumes about music, live performance and being on the road. At the concert she mentioned that on that tour, Helen Carter spent time with her teaching her many of the classic songs that the Carter Family and others had made famous, and teaching Rosanne in a way that made them her own. That is something that is not valued enough these days, part of what is so important about the “folk process.” These songs will only live on if they are taught to others, so that they can be passed on to the youngest amongst us. These days we can learn them from CDs and You Tube, but something important can be missing. When you learn a song from another person you hear which parts are important to that person, the parts they wish to emphasize. Then, you take it and emphasize the parts that speak to you. Purists believe that songs should only be played One Way. But I don’t believe that that has ever really happened, because I know how people are. We like to leave our mark, no matter how reverent we think we are, even toward a song. And this isn’t a bad thing…most of the time.
In the case of Rosanne, it is a very good thing. Her playlist Sunday night included many of the songs from The List and a few of her others from over the years. She began with “I’m Movin’ On”, the Hank Snow classic, this time slowed down and made into a soulful ballad, whereas the original, in typical Snow fashion, was a fast-paced romp away from a bad love. They’re both great. She continued with The List, covering “500 Miles”, “Heartaches by the Numbers”, “Sea of Heartbreak”, “Take These Chains From My Heart”, “Long Black Veil”, “She’s Got You” and “Girl from the North Country”. Her arrangement of the latter turned the song into, as she put it, “an old ballad.” I felt the high point of this part of the set was her rendition of “Motherless Children.” Rosanne has always rocked, and her interpretation of this old blues song was profound and demonstrated how incredible the “folk process” really is. She brought such life and energy to a song that is decades if not centuries old, and made the house rock along the way.
The set included two songs from Black Cadillac, which I confess is probably my favorite of her albums. She sang “Radio Operator” and “The World Unseen”, two highlights on an achingly beautiful and poignant record, a memento of love and loss. She also sang “The Wheel” and “Seven Year Ache”, which she introduced as a song of hers that she would put on A List for her own daughter.
Rosanne’s excellent set was further buoyed by the talents of her band. Her longtime musical collaborator and husband Jon Leventhal provided very tasteful lead guitar and sang the harmony parts on “Sea of Heartbreak” and a couple of other numbers. The drumming was solid, the acoustic and rhythm guitar playing was first rate and the addition of a Hammond B-3 to the sound was an excellent choice.
As Leventhal has mentioned in interviews, he wanted The List to highlight Rosanne as a singer. This concert not only showcased her talent in this regard, but it showed how a great performer communicates deep emotion and inspires others, thereby continuing the “folk process.”