Not only did Rosanne Cash sell out Landmark on Main Street on Saturday, November 2nd, but she did it in just two days according to Landmark’s Executive Director, Sharon Maier-Kennelly. And that was before the tickets even went on sale to the general public, meaning that everyone in the audience had anted up to become a Friend of Landmark so they could purchase tickets in August. My guess is that Cash could have done a week-long residence at Landmark and STILL sold out each night.
Cash is the eldest child of the legendary Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian. She began her career after high school by joining Johnny and her stepmother, June Carter Cash, on their road show, working first as a wardrobe assistant, then as a background vocalist and sometime soloist. In 1980, Cash released her first album in the US – Right or Wrong – to critical success. There has been no looking back since then. In addition to music, the multi-talented Cash has also written several books, and is regularly published in magazines.
After an informative introduction by WFUV’s John Platt, Cash took the stage with her husband – guitarist, producer and song writer, John Leventhal. They launched into the up-tempo “Dreams are Not My Home” from Black Cadillac, an album of songs written just after the deaths of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and Rosanne Cash’s mother, Vivian. Cash’s voice, as smooth and undulating as a river, was immediately captivating, and the next 90 minutes passed in the blink of an eye.
Over the course of the evening, Cash praised both Landmark – “Your reputation preceded you – I heard this is a great theater!” – and its audience.
Much of Cash’s set came from her upcoming CD, The River and The Thread (available in January 2014) and from 2009’s The List, which was inspired by a list of 100 essential country songs given to her by her father in the early 1970’s. “I’m Movin’ On,” a Hank Snow song from the The List gave the first hint of Leventhal’s outstanding guitar skills. Some guitarists have technique, and some have feeling, but Leventhal has it all and manages to play with such nonchalant ease that I can’t help but describe him as a sort of folk Eric Clapton. Other standouts from The List were Cash’s bluesy rendition of “Motherless Children,” and her take on Bob Dylan’s “ Girl From the North Country” (which her dad also recorded).
The defining moment came for me during “The World Unseen,” a heartbreaking and poetic tribute to her father from the album Black Cadillac. I found myself crying as she sang “now that we must live apart, I have a lock of hair and one half of my heart.” If you’re not familiar with the song, do yourself a favor and look up the lyrics. In the best tradition of songwriting, those lyrics could stand alone as a beautiful poem. It was perfectly matched by an achingly beautiful guitar solo by Leventhal that seemed to capture the same depth of feeling held in Cash’s voice. Even she seemed overwhelmed at the end.
Other standouts were “Modern Blue” from the upcoming CD, a cover of her dad’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” which showcased Leventhal’s keen guitar skills, and an amazingly suspenseful version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” with Leventhal detuning his guitar at the end of the song – something I’d never seen before. Later, Leventhal showed that his musical talent extends to the piano when he sat at Landmark’s Steinway and accompanied Cash (allegedly for the first time ever on piano) on “ I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.”
She closed with 1981’s “ Seven Year Ache,” and was brought back by a cheering crowd for her encore – “Heartaches by the Number” from The List. It was an outstanding performance, and wherever Johnny Cash is, I’m sure he was beaming.