Friday, October 17, 2014

Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread

Exploring the south and her roots – 
a lovely record, but magisterial in concert

Our Seats at Clowes Hall
     We were in Indianapolis last month and Neil happened to see that Rosanne Cash was going to perform at Butler University’s Clowes Memorial Hall.  Since we were able to get seats that guaranteed no one would be standing in front of us,
we decided to go.  Cash’s The River and the Thread was released earlier this year and I really liked it.  The grandeur it attained in concert was only suggested on disc.  Part of the reason was that the instrumentation sounded more complex live and Cash’s singing was also stronger.  

Cash with Husband,
John Leventhal
     Cash and her producer/husband John Leventhal co-wrote a collection of songs that refer to the geographical American south, where Cash was born, and the larger, cultural signifiers of the South in country, blues, and gospel genres and styles as well as Sun Records in Memphis where Johnny Cash, her father, and Elvis, among others, first recorded, and the literary tradition exemplified in the oeuvres of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.  She mentioned each of these influences in passing as she briefly summed up the origin of each song in sequence, a practice she’d first experienced at a Lou Reed concert.  

     The personal country history of “The Sunken Lands” and “Etta’s Tune” move into the nouveau gospel of “Tell Heaven,” and the roots rockabilly of “50,000 Watts.”  “Night School” sounds like an eerie lullaby, though it’s more of a wish to be reunited, while “Money Road” connects the Tallahatchie River and all of its symbolism to the commercialization of what was a folk art.  The irony – not lost on her – is that Cash’s stepfamily, the Carters, were the origin of what became modern American Country music as an industry.

Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home
     The stand out track is “When the Master Calls the Roll,” written by Levanthal and Rodney Crowell for Emmylou Harris, but she hasn’t recorded it so Cash worked to reinterpret some of the music with her lyrics.  It takes off from Cash’s great-great grandparents marrying during the Civil War and refers to both a military roll call and the judgement of the dead.

     The band that Cash and Levanthal put together was unbeatable.  It really rocked, which I hadn’t expected.  Her presence was somehow elegant, bohemian, and regal.  She fully interacted with the band members and acted very much as a collaborator, rather than their leader.  She treated the audience with both the utmost respect and a sense of wry humor.  The second half of the concert was a compilation of both her ‘80s hits and the deeper, more personal work of the past decade as well as a couple of her father’s songs.

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