The smoky, soulful singer knows how to make an entrance and how to keep an audience mesmerized. Rosanne Cash played at The Music Center at Strathmore on Friday, April 17, 2015. Her two-hour set featured a mixture of country, gospel and blues heavily infused with history and longing.
Cash performed two separate sets with a brief intermission. The first set was comprised of songs from her recent album The River and the Thread. These compositions paid tribute to Cash’s ancestors, the American South and the wandering human spirit. Cash’s performance was an engaging coalition of history lecture and effortless musical offering: from the sweet “Etta’s Song” to the catchy and expressive “Modern Blue.” Cash introduced the song “The Sunken Lands” as a tribute to her grandmother. She tells the audience about her grandmother’s struggles with poverty and a verbally abusive marriage. There was a moment of perfect silence as the audience simultaneously imagines this woman they have never known. This was the grandeur of Cash’s performance; she allowed the audience into her intimate history.
Cash’s first set included image projections: houses, people, empty roads. The images were subtle, often in muted earth tones, but they added their flavor to geography of her musical landscape. Throughout her performance, Cash gave credit to the others responsible for her show. She confessed that the projector chord had caught on fire shortly before the show, and she praised the technical crew at Strathmore for fixing it. She introduced her backup band several times. Cash commends her bandmate, producer, co-writer and husband John Leventhal for all his efforts. During the second set, Cash and Leventhal play several duets.
In the midst of haunting and deeply revealing songs, Cash incorporates humor. She introduces the song “Tell Heaven” saying “we wrote a gospel song we think agnostics might love.” Cash shares some stories of her family and her trials as a parent. Cash’s second set was a potpourri of songs from her earlier albums, country classics (“Long Black Veil”) and folk standards (“500 Miles”). Her entire performance was moving and heartfelt but with the casual nature of a sing-along at a neighborhood barbecue.
Rosanne Cash has won multiple Grammy Awards, and she is a country music legend – by merit, not just by birthright. Her lyrics are stirring and her music is an extraordinary travelogue. Rosanne Cash stands above a rating from any reviewer. The audience’s nearly-unanimous standing ovation after both her first and second set speaks for itself.
Rosanne Cash performed on Friday, April 17, 2015 at Strathmore Music Center – 11810 Grand Park Avenue, in North Bethesda, MD. For more information on upcoming Strathmore events, go to their calendar of performances.