With a blue moon rising over the Wasatch Range, Rosanne Cash took the stage at the Kenley Amphitheater to a near sell-out crowd on Friday, Aug. 31. Mentioning the beauty of the dazzling moon following her opener, Cash promised to sing her hit "Blue Moon With Heartache" before the night was out.
She was as good as her word, finishing her set with the tune. In between, she and her capable her five-piece band, including guitarist and harmony singer husband, John Leventhal, made fine Americana that ranged from 19th-century beloved traditionals ("Motherless Children") to solid, brand-new Leventhal/Cash collaborations ("Modern Blue" and "Etta's Song") from their forthcoming album about Southern people and places.
Cash, whose warm contralto was strong and supple, spent a good portion of the evening delivering songs from "The List," a 2009 album that took 12 tunes from a list her father Johnny Cash gave her when she was 18, labeled "100 Essential Country Songs." She noted the songs themselves are actually drawn from a number of musical genres -- their commonality simply being great pieces of American music.
She and Leventhal bantered playfully several times, including when she talked about how she had gotten to do a duet on "The List" song "Sea of Heartbreak" with Bruce Springsteen. "When he said he'd do it, I said, 'Whatever!' " said Cash of Springsteen, and then admitted she'd all but screamed when he agreed -- to which husband Leventhal snorted and said the truth is, now she had to sing it with him, she says "Whatever!" The longtime twosome had a great chemistry with each other and their other bands members that made them fun to watch.
A highlight from "The List" was a chill-bump-inducing version of "Long Black Veil," a song her father made a hit out of. Another delightful take on one of her father's hits was a rocking version of "Tennessee Flat-Top Box," which let both of her guitarists shine.
Another great moment came with the evening's most musically simple -- Cash and Leventhal alone onstage, with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment. Pondering what she might pick to add to that famous list, Cash launched into a moody and appropriately cryptic version of "Ode to Billy Joe" that kept the crowd in the palm of her hand.
Cash also pleased the audience with versions of her hits, including "Seven Year Ache" and "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me." She told a story about how she wrote the latter in response to not winning a Grammy in 1984. In an ironic turn, it was this response to the loss that ended up landing her a Grammy the following year. She still seems to take pleasure in the fact as she sings the tune.
As I started to leave with the satisfied crowd, I ran into a friend running stage security. As the band packed up and we chatted, an older gentleman approached. After saying how much he enjoyed the show, he held an old black and white of himself with Johnny Cash, both looking quite the cool cats, at a show in 1964. Cash's bass player saw us and came over to talk to the fellow. They were heading back toward Cash with the photo when I left.
It made me happy to think that Rosanne Cash would be pleased to meet a fan who loved both her father's music, and her own. As her step-grandparents, The Carters, famously sang, the circle remains unbroken.