Moments before the last song of Rosanne Cash’s second set, a wag in the audience calls for Walk The Line and I wonder what it must be like to be a hugely successful artist with a proven back catalogue yet still be perceived by some as Johnny’s daughter. As you would expect, Cash takes it in her stride, even blessing the interruption with a kiss.
In truth, she is more aware than most how family and history accompany our every move. In the cavernous Barbican Hall tonight she acknowledges both with a chronological performance of her latest album The River And The Thread, songs from The List, itself an album suggested by her father’s choice of songs for her, and a blistering run through of his own Tennessee Flat Top Box that ends in a fierce guitar duel between husband and all round musical director John Leventhal and the lean Marc Copely (Is it just me, or is Mark a dead ringer for the sadly no longer with us Chris Whitley?). There are so many emotional layers carefully peeled away on stage it’s surprising she makes it to the microphone stand wearing them all, but she treats each one with respect, graceful intelligence and a sharp wit mastered over thousands of live performances.
She takes time to explain the origin of each song from The River.., imbuing our journey through the Delta with a gravitas and depth that has us standing in line with Civil War soldiers one minute and tasting Gumbo the next. Vast cotton fields and the poor communities that worked them stand silently by as the songs are played and love is found, lost and wasted in the sticky heat of the South. Memories of Sun-era Memphis are played out in Etta’s Tune and 50,000 Watts; evocative names like Mobile and the Tallahatchie Bridge are brought to life in vignettes about the ordinary folk who call them home, or left them and can’t go back.
Modern Blue, Night School (surely one the best songs she’s ever written) and Money Road stand out but it’s all good. The band are tight and share an easy camaraderie, the mix of Delta blues, Country, folk and pop treated with respect and marshalled by Leventhal with a relaxed efficiency. The album is carefully choreographed around Rosanne’s explanations so that song intros work their own punctuation into the memories and stories she relates. It’s quite a skill to reproduce an album and expose more of its meaning and values in a live setting; by the time Rosanne and her band take a short break it’s clear we’ve witnessed something very special.
After that, the second set is almost an indulgence. Radio Operator from the brilliant Black Cadillac is up first, followed by a raucous run through Hank Snow’s I’m Moving On. A beautifully rendered Ode To Billie Joe, just Cash and Leventhal on stage, continues the theme of interwoven histories, Bobbie Gentry’s classic mirrored by The River’s album cover and lyric from Money Road. Biloxi is dedicated to its writer Jesse Winchester who died last week, before they light up the place with the aforementioned Tennessee Flat Top Box, the chick-a-boom rhythm threatening to pull the hall off its foundations and send it down the tracks. Old favourite Seven Year Ache ends the show before encores of a fragile Western Wall and fiery Motherless Children bring the audience to its feet with another blazing jam.
At some point in the evening, Cash announced it was her and Leventhal’s 19th wedding anniversary. For the appreciative audience in the hall, it was a privilege to share a small part of their history; past, present and, we hope, plenty more to come in the future.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
1st SET –
- The River And The Thread
2nd SET –
- Radio operator
- I’m Moving On
- Blue Moon With Heartache
- Ode to Billie Joe
- Long Black Veil
- Tennessee Flat Top Box
- 7 Year Ache
- Western Wall
- Motherless Children
The Band –
- Rosanne Cash – Vocals; Guitar
- John Leventhal – Guitars; Vocals
- Marc Copely – Guitars
- Zev Katz – Bass; Vocals
- Glen Patscha – Keyboards; Vocals
- Dan Rieser – Drums
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