Certain things just continue to improve with age and judging by the flawless performance by Rosanne Cash this evening, she certainly deserves honorary membership of that club. Looking resplendent in a bird embroidered Nudie influenced blazer (a Stella Mc Cartney creation for the fashion inquisitive among you!) , Cash and her husband John Leventhal enthralled the large attendance at the National Concert Hall tonight with a one and three-quarter hour set that hardly had a weak moment, vocal or chord (to be honest Leventhal does strike one bum note during Forty Shades of Green to both his and his wife’s amusement!). Cash and her husband are regular visitors to Ireland and she refers fondly to her last appearance, when she was invited to take part in a music spectacular at The Bord Gais Theatre in March 2016 to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary
With the acoustics at the Concert Hall more sympathetic to acoustic rather than more electric arrangements, both Cash’s stunning vocals and Leventhal’s wonderful guitar work are crystal clear throughout her well-chosen set, which in the main delves into material from her more recent albums, but also includes a few covers and a couple of songs from her early career. She is also due to release her next album in October titled She Remembers Everything and if the song she performed from the album, titled Rabbit Hole, is an indication of what to expect, it will match the lofty standard of her previous three releases.
Her 2014 album The River and The Thread, was inspired both personally and historically by the Mississippi Delta. Arguably a career best, she opens the show with three selections from the album. First up is Modern Blue, a song of travel and love, written in both Memphis and Barcelona.The Sunken Lands,swiftly follows, written about an area in Arkansas which sank during the earthquake of 1811. She continues with material from the same album by including A Feather’s Not A Bird, inspired Cash tells us, by a visit to her friend Natalie Chanin’s fabric studio in Florence Alabama. While Chanin was threading her needle, she commented ‘You have to love the needle’, immediately giving Cash the idea for the song title.
While travelling on tour with Johnny Cash in the early 70’s - Rosanne was immersed in rock music at the time – her father was astounded that his daughter was unaware of what he considered, classic American songs. He spent some time listing for her, what he called, 100 Essential Country Songs. Rosanne’s 2009 album The List, featured songs from his recommendations and she performs both Long Black Veil and Sea of Heartbreak (dedicated to her young niece in the audience). Commenting that she duets with Bruce Springsteen on the album track, she joked that in the absence of Bruce her husband will have to do the honours tonight. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow from the same album also features later in the set. Blue Moon With Heartacheis is introduced as ‘a song older than my youngest daughter,’ taken from her 1981 Seven Year Itch album. The Bobby Gentry classic Ode To Billie Joe is next, another Delta inspired classic, with Cash recalling how her husband and her visited Tallahatchie Bridge during their travels through the Delta researching for her 2014 album and the haunting feeling the location brought about. A further cover follows, at Leventhal’s insistence Rosanne jokes, with Leventhal switching to piano for an eloquent adaptation of Bob Dylan’s Farewell Angelina.
‘Do you actually think I wasn’t going to play this song’ is the introduction to Forty Shades of Green, following Cash recounting how she visited a second-hand bookshop in Dublin a few years back when she was playing a show at Vicar Street. High on a shelf was a large book titled History of Irish Music. Taking it from the shelf and dusting it down, she randomly opened a page in the book and the title of the chapter was, of course, Johnny Cash. Recalling the tale and singing the song proves particularly emotive for her and she is visibly tearful after the last chord.
Introducing WhenThe Master Calls The Roll, written by John Leventhal and her ex-husband Rodney Crowell, she explains that she begged them to allow her to record it, only to be told ‘it was written for Emmylou’. A few months passed without the song being recorded so she decided to bite the bullet and ask Crowell to rewrite the lyrics with her, which he agreed to do. It’s a beautiful love ballad inspired by Cash’s discovery that she had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War and her delivery is one of many highlights this evening. Seven Year Ache closes the show, remarkably written almost four decades ago before a standing ovation brings the pair back on stage for two encores. First up is Tennessee Flat Top Box which again showcases Leventhal’s exceptional guitar skills before she closes the show to a further standing ovation with 500 Milesfrom The List.
It’s not an overstatement to describe Rosanne Cash as music royalty. Her song writing ability and vocals aside, she is a spokesperson for artists rights in the industry digital age, a long-time supporter of many charitable organisations, a decorated author and holds a doctorate degree from the Berklee College of Music. That aside, this evenings performance is further evidence that, like a vintage wine, she continues to improve with age. A night to remember.
Review and (sneaky) photo by Declan Culliton