Tue, Jul 2, 2013.
Rosanne Cash makes her way to New Brunswick this week, her second trip in the past couple of years, and it's an excellent time to be seeing the esteemed singer-songwriter. Her last release, The List, proved to be one of the most popular albums of her career, and opened up a whole new touring style for her. The List was a collection of classics, taken from a suggestion of her late father's. When she had joined his road show as a teen, Johnny Cash made her a list of 100 essential country songs to hear and learn, his primer on what the music was all about. Remembering that list decades later, Rosanne selected a few favourites, and a few years back started featuring them in her own show.
Since the album's release in 2009, Cash has been touring in two different styles, one with a full band, the other with only one other player. But what a player; it's her husband, the producer and songwriter John Levanthal. An accomplished acoustic guitar player, the duo have a revolving selection of songs from The List, and from all parts of Cash's career. That's the performance we'll see on these dates.
Except, it's now been four years since The List was released, and Cash has something new to share as well. I spoke to her from her home in New York as she was preparing for a string of Canadian dates, and she was excited to tell the news. "I do have a new album coming out, in the fall", she confirmed. "It's going to be called The River And The Thread. It's songs about the South, and my particular connection to the South. All the people i know and the people that I knew. John and i took a lot of trips to the South in the last few years, and it really resonated with me. The songs are really rooted in swampy, delta sounds. It was musical DNA. It was the people that I still have connections too. It got sparked because Arkansas State University. bought my dad's boyhood home, to turn it into a heritage site, so I got involved and started going down a lot."
It's not a sentimental album, she's quick to point out. Instead, it's full of stories that reflect the Southern experience. Drawing on her own family's history, one song sees her take on that classic American split of the 19th century, family fighting against family. "I had relatives that fought on both sides of the Civil War, Cash relatives. I saw there were six photographs on the (on-line) Civil War data base. And one of them was a bugler, and there he was, William Cash, my relative, from Massachusetts. That directly inspired this Civil War song that I wrote with Rodney Crowell and John."
So, Rosanne Cash is in a mood to get out and play, especially these intimate soft-seater shows, where the songs, old and new, can be heard and appreciated. "We've really been enjoying refining this duo show we do together," she says of the performances with Levanthal. "It's kind of romantic, it's funny, and we like it. We're doing two of the new songs now, and they're going great." With a career that has gone from 80's country chart-toppers (Seven Year Ache, Tennessee Flat-Top Box) to more reflective singer-songwriter albums (The Wheel, Black Cadillac) to The List, with its classic old-time numbers (Sea Of Heartbreak, Long Black Veil), it's best for them just to play what they're enjoying. "Try to satisfy everyone? Impossible. That's almost suicide. Trying to satisfy everyone's different hopes, versus where I'm at these days, I just try to be true to myself and what I'm feeling like. Plus, everyone knows it's me, they know what to expect."
And as for The List, there's still another 88 songs that she hasn't tackled yet. "Not now, not next. Some time I'll get back to that, but, you know, songwriter first!"
Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal will be at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton Friday, July 5, and The Playhouse in Fredericton on July 6. New Brunswick's own Thom Swift opens both shows.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).