Music lovers are in their seats this Wednesday, November 10, 2021 evening at MPAC in Morristown, NJ, anxiously awaiting a live concert by Rosanne Cash. One of music’s pre-eminent singer/songwriters, Cash has scored 21 Top 40 country hits, including 11 #1 singles. Her landmark 2009 album, The List, won the Americana Music Album of the Year award and her 2015 release, The River and the Thread — a collaboration with her husband, musician John Leventhal — earned her three Grammy Awards. Cash’s latest recording is her 2018 Blue Note release, She Remembers Everything.
Lights dim, and the crowd applauds as a group of musicians including guitarist/musical director John Leventhal, bassist Zee Katz, drummer Dan Rieser, keyboardist Matt Beck, and guitarist Kevin Barry take their places on stage. Leventhal and Barry slowly strum their guitars and Rieser’s drums kick in as Cash takes the stage singing “A Feather’s Not a Bird.”
Crooning in her warm, clear alto, “A feather’s not a bird/The rain is not the sea/A stone is not a mountain/But a river runs through me,” Cash gives a wonderfully bluesy vocal performance as she’s deftly accompanied by Leventhal and the band on this driving number.
Cash thanks the audience for coming tonight, joking, “I can even tell you’re smiling under your masks,” before noting, “It was a long journey wasn’t it? This is one of the first times I’ve seen the band in two years.”
Cash introduces her song, “The Sunken Lands,” which she and Leventhal created based on Cash’s family history. On this country-swing ballad, Cash is accompanied by the strumming sound of three acoustic guitars as she sings with fiery emotion, “The children cry, the work never ends/There’s not a single friend/Who will hold her hand in the sunken lands?” The music builds with intensity and guitars cry out as Leventhal and Cash play side by side.
Relating a story associated with her famous father — country music legend Johnny Cash — Rosanne performs a song about Marshall Grant, her dad’s bass player, who was married for 65 years to a woman named Etta. For years, the couple would ask themselves “What’s the temperature?” as their unique way of saying “good morning” to one another. In her next number, “Etta’s Tune,” Cash’s lyrics conjure up bittersweet images of the life of a world-traveled musician as she sings with feeling, “What’s the temperature darling/As the daylight fades away/I’ll make one last rehearsal/With one foot in the grave.”
Next, Cash performs “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” a song she wrote for the HBO TV show, True Detective. Leventhal plays a twangy electric guitar solo which has the crowd applauding mid-song on this number which has bassist Zev Katz walking about to the driving beat and guitarist Kevin Barry strumming with a country flair.
Cash takes a moment to concede that for many live events taking place following the pandemic, shows have not sold out, explaining, “Our motto is we play for those who come, not for those who didn’t come.” Revealing that she reworked the lyrics of a song by Rev. Gary Davis for the occasion of getting back together again, she and the band perform the gospel-like spiritual, “Trying to Get Home.” Keyboardist Matt Beck switches over to mandolin, Kevin Barry plays an electric guitar solo, and John Leventhal plays a lyrical acoustic guitar solo which elicits applause before Cash’s voice poignantly cries out, “We’ll be done with all this trouble if we just love one another.”
Revealing to the audience that she and John have now been married 26 years, Cash explains, “I wrote this song about how every day is getting more precious,” before performing “Crossing to Jerusalem.” Barry plays lap steel guitar and Beck adds the sound of a swirling organ to this bluesy rock ballad. Cash’s rich resonant lower register is featured as she croons, “Who we are is who we were/And all of you were there/We’re crossing to Jerusalem/It’s nothing we can’t bear.”
Cash talks about how she found herself thinking about quantum physics one day wondering, “Could the power of love slow the speed of light?” Then, she stands centerstage and uses her hands to emote as she performs “Particle and Wave.”
Matt Beck’s grand piano fills and Kevin Barry’s lap steel guitar cries on this slow, ethereal composition.
Cash suggests, “When an old woman dies, a library disappears, so I’m sharing my library before it gets burned to the ground,” before launching into “She Remembers Everything.” Leventhal is featured on electric guitar on this 6/8 minor piece, accompanied by Beck on grand piano and Barry on acoustic guitar, where the song’s coda sounds like a wind-up clock running out of time.
Barry, Beck, and Katz leave Cash and Leventhal alone on stage to perform a number which Cash calls the “centerpiece song” of The List — an album of twelve tunes from a list of one hundred her father gave her when she was 18 years old to expand her knowledge of country music. On “Long Black Veil,” Cash has the audience hanging on her every word as she hauntingly sings, “Ten years ago on a cold dark night/Someone was killed ‘neath the town hall lights/There were few at the scene, but they all agreed/That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.”
Cash concedes that the duo’s next number “is not on the list, but it’s gonna be on my list,” to which Leventhal jokes, “It’s only on my list when my guitar’s in tune.” After tuning his guitar, he and Cash give one of the highlight performances of the evening with an unplugged cover version of Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 #1 hit, “Ode to Billy Joe.” With Leventhal and his guitar functioning like a one-man orchestra, Cash’s voice moves the story forward in restrained conversation, the musicians impressing with their sheer talent. As the audience cheers at the conclusion, Cash remarks, “A great song lasts forever.”
Following the folky “The World Unseen,” Cash tells a story about how Leventhal and her ex-husband, Rodney Crowell, wrote a melody together which Roseann once asked if she could use for herself. Eventually, Cash employed it in writing her own ballad about two of her Civil War ancestors, William and Mary Anne Cash.
Featuring a Johnny Cash-style country guitar accompaniment, Roseann sings like she’s praying on this solemn piece entitled, “When the Master Calls the Roll.”
At the conclusion, Cash appears to comment on America’s current political situation when she speaks aloud the lyric, “Though the storm clouds gather, let the union remain whole.”
After announcing, “I wrote this next song when I was 23 years old — younger than my youngest daughter is now,” Cash gives an emotional performance of a tune which was a #1 country hit for her in 1981, “Blue Moon with Heartache.” On this number, colored lights illuminate Barry’s crying slide guitar as Leventhal plays electric and Cash plays acoustic guitar.
Next up is “Killing Fields,” a song which Cash wrote this past summer that reckons with the dark legacy of lynchings in the South. Her emotional performance propels the song forward as she sings, “Goodbye to the killing fields/I’ll break every single bow/‘Cause all that came before you/And all that came before me/And all that came before us/Is not who we are now.”
Cash talks about taking trips through the Delta region and the various historic sites she visited there including the grave of the “father of the blues,” Robert Johnson, and the site of the Emmett Till incident that inspired Rosa Parks and sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Explains Cash, “Much of what makes us America — the beauty and the suffering — happened on Money Road.”
Here, she and the band launch into a bluesy version of “Money Road” where Cash’s vocal and the band’s instrumental performance perfectly compliment one another. Leventhal fingerpicks an electric guitar solo on his Telecaster and Barry picks out a solo on his electric before twangy dueling guitars shine and elicit avid cheers from the audience.
After introducing the members of the band, Cash gets the audience clapping along on the crowd-pleasing, “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” Borrowing a lick from The Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” Barry plays a Chuck-Berry-inspired electric guitar solo on this country rocker which gets heads bopping and toes tapping. Several music lovers in the audience stand and dance as Leventhal plays a rapid fire high and sweet electric guitar solo which brings the entire audience to its feet.
Cash exclaims, “Thanks for coming out — we made it together!” before the band bows, waves, and exits. Audience members stand to demand more and Cash returns for an encore of her first #1 country hit, 1981’s “Seven Year Ache.” Cash and Leventhal play acoustic guitars and Beck’s keyboard swirls to the beat as Cash’s resonant voice fills the theater on this appealing country-rocker.
Obviously enjoying performing this hit from her past, Cash and her colleagues conclude the performance with a bluesy and sweet coda which has music lovers whistling and cheering on their feet.
“Thank you my friends. Stay safe,” concludes Cash as she and the band exit the stage.
As we make our way out of the MPAC auditorium, we chat with several audience members who share their opinions of tonight’s show. Nunzio from Bordentown calls Cash, “Fantastic!” explaining, “She’s got a good set of pipes — she sounds like she’s 25 — and the entire band has excellent musicianship.” His wife, Nancy, agrees, adding that her entire experience tonight was “very enjoyable.”
Grace from Long Valley calls Cash’s performance, “Wonderful!” explaining, “I loved all of her songs, but her encore of ‘Seven Year Ache’ was my absolute favorite.” Robbie from Gouldsboro PA, remarks, “I have all of Roseanne’s albums, and her voice sounded really good tonight,” acknowledging, “My favorite part was when she and John Leventhal performed ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ — their interpretation was just great.”
Chris from Morristown declares, “I thought they rocked out — and I especially loved the lap steel guitar — it sounded awesome!” Kristin from Kerhonkson, NY, notes, “I was struck by what a historian Rosanne Cash is with regards to her songs. It’s interesting how she incorporated that history into her music — where I felt like I was learning something at the same time I was enjoying the music,” before noting, “And what a great sound she and the band have; this concert was really worth the trip!”
Whereas Doug from Chester acknowledges, “I had a wonderful time! The musicianship was stunning, with a beautiful mix and balance,” Chris, a musician from Boonton Twp., insists, “Roseann Cash is amazing! Her voice is gorgeous and her stories are great.” Explaining, “I’ve been a fan of hers for 30 years — and her husband is such an incredible guitarist,” Chris declares, “It was so great to see a bunch of musicians at the top of their game. They were spot-on, yet subtle,” before concluding, “You don’t get to hear something like this everyday. Get them back here again soon!’’
To learn more about Rosanne Cash, please go to rosannecash.com. For information on upcoming concerts at MPAC — including Sara Evans Blue Christmas Tour on December 10, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox on Dec. 11, and Phillip Phillips and Jon Foreman on January 24, 2022 — please click on mayoarts.org.
Spotlight Central. Your source for Jersey entertainment news and reviews
Love Imagery Fine Art Photography. all you need. peace/love/flower/power