Rosanne Cash remixes herself
by Seth Rogovoy

(NORTH ADAMS, Mass., May 26, 2003) – Mass MoCA could not have done much better than to have Rosanne Cash kick off the performance portion of its “Yankee Remix”-themed season, as she did on Sunday night in a terrific concert that was as entertaining as it was suggestive of the theme.

Anything Cash does automatically comes dusted with layers of Americana. Whether she is singing old-time folk music, country-pop hits, original, introspective, confessional ballads or Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan songs – all of which she did on Sunday night – it’s all done within a richly knowing awareness of her position as a scion of one of the first families of American country music. Indeed, at one point after a particularly twangy guitar solo by her producer-husband, John Leventhal, she teased him, saying, “Not bad for someone who went to college.” Rosanne Cash is, by very definition, Yankee Remix incarnate.

She also put on a great, well-paced show, which isn’t surprising, as her teachers – her father, Johnny Cash, and her stepmother, the late June Carter Cash – were masters of the craft.

She kicked off her set with “44 Stories,” one of about a half dozen new songs from her terrific new album, “Rules of Travel,” a perfect set-opener with its invocations of conjuring up the muse. She followed that up with another new one, “Hope Against Hope,” a scorching, minor-key folk-rocker in the style of Dire Straits, written by Joe Henry and Jakob Dylan, that gave her band a chance to firmly establish its sound, with Leventhal playing some very Mark Knopfler-like licks and organist Brian Mitchell adding dark, Wallflowers-like textures.

Songs like “What We Really Want,” from her transitional album, “Interiors,” combined the lyrical concision and directness of the country music tradition out of which Cash came with the personal, introspective tendencies of contemporary folk, the movement with which she is currently aligned. It’s a song where ships in the night coexist amicably with a woman staring into a mirror, with a melody that is at once dark and brooding yet propelled along with a bouncy swing.

Other highlights included the new song, “September When It Comes,” a meditation on mortality, and “Seven Year Ache,” one of her number-one country hits, here given a more soulful, bluesy sheen than in the original. Cash took an emotionally affecting solo turn on an old A.P. Carter, country-folk song, “The Winding Stream,” which she dedicated to June Carter Cash, and on which her voice took on more of a delicate, country pinch. She delivered a full-band version of her father’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” powered by Johnny Cash’s trademark “boom chicka boom” rhythm and some terrific honky-tonk piano by Mitchell, and brought down the curtain with the solid, pop-rock hit, “The Wheel.”

For her encore, Cash wrapped a few lines of John Lennon’s “God” into a version of Bob Dylan’s “License to Kill,” in which she found the pointed antiwar song lurking behind Dylan’s clunky, cranky mysticism. She sent the crowd out to yet another bit of Yankee remixing -- a moody, atmospheric, rubato rendering of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.”

Pioneer Valley singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt warmed up the audience with a set of his own original ballads, moody like Cash’s yet built upon a solid foundation of American blues, folk, county and classic pop.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 28, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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