Rosanne Cash at Kuss Auditorium
by Kristopher Weiss on February 24, 2017
After spending 90 minutes making Springfield, Ohio, sound and feel as it if was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Rosanne Cash and her “taller half,” husband John Leventhal, took the town on a trip to Liverpool with “Things We Said Today.”
Despite the juxtaposition with what came before, the Beatles number was a fitting penultimate number to tack on to the light-hearted, yet musically studious, performance built around Cash’s 2014 album, The River & the Thread and 2009’s The List. The former features original Cash-Leventhal songs inspired by Cash’s southern roots while the latter is full of covers that inspired Cash’s dad, who liked to wear black and sing low.
Toward the end of the main set, Rosanne paid tribute to Johnny, singing “Tennessee Flat Top Box” as Leventhal laid down rockabilly grooves on his acoustic guitar. She clapped along as he tossed in licks from “Day Tripper” and “Sunshine of Your Love” for good measure.
"Got a good reason/for takin’ the easy way out," she half-sang, half-laughed after the tune ended.
“Yeah, that’s what I was doing,” he deadpanned.
Cash and Leventhal - a multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer who exudes music - traded good-natured, married-couple humor throughout their fantastic performance.
Because he had just changed the strings on her guitar, it was his fault that it needed frequent tuning. When Cash was unable to remember the chords to “What We Really Want is Love,” she stopped the song - which was an audience request and hadn’t been played in a decade - promised to rehearse and come back and perform it properly.
“Well, I remembered it,” Leventhal said, rising from the piano he’d been playing and strapping on his acoustic guitar.
“Let me know when the rehearsal’s done.”
Performing on a sparse stage adorned with only stools and a faux-starry background, Cash and Leventhal made excellent use of the Kuss Auditorium’s splendid acoustics, with his tapping boots and her snapping fingers serving as rhythm section and the pair regularly bringing the music to a whisper to stellar effect.
A duo concert in all but billing, the performance found the pair harmonizing and playing with the precision of siblings. Playing occasional rhythm guitar but mostly relying on her outstanding vocal abilities, Cash proved herself a singer who’s most effective on stage, where her powerful voice has room to expand and wrap around the audience.
Though she’s lived most of her life in either Southern California or New York City, the Memphis-born Cash is southern through and through and that comes across in her music. Whether she’s singing about “The Sunken Lands” where her grandparents’ homesteads once stood or her relatives’ Civil War history in “When the Master Calls the Roll” or covering Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” or Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” Cash oozes Dixie.
Leventhal was key to this feeling, his rich, twangy acoustic guitar tones recalling the Delta and long, dark, rural roadways, shady characters and a history steeped in the unique characteristics of America’s south.
Working and playing together, Cash and Leventhal gave a crash course in American - and Cash family - history in 100 minutes. The appreciative crowd rewarded their effort with a heartfelt standing ovation.
Authors: Kristopher Weiss