“You’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll,” Rosanne Cash told the audience Sunday night, and damned if she wasn’t right. The petite 56-year-old brought down the house at T.D. Arena with an eclectic set of old originals, selections from her father Johnny Cash’s 100 essential country songs off her album The List, and two promising new tunes courtesy of her forthcoming album set to release in January.
The audience was a sea of Cash’s contemporaries, Baby Boomers, the likes of whom arrived on time and began checking their watches when the lights hadn’t dimmed at 8 minutes past. A gregarious gentleman in a brown sports coat sitting next to me essentially shared my seat as his pre-show socializing, (arms raised, “Joe! Honey, is that Joe?!”) necessitated he nearly sit on my lap. But what T.D. Arena lacked in arm space, it more than made up for in acoustics. When Cash and her band, including her husband/guitarist/producer John Leventhal, took the stage, all thoughts of sitting in the middle of a basketball court vanished.
That voice! Recordings do not do it justice. Forget her country music pedigree for just a moment and what you see is a 34-year veteran performer, songwriter, and guitarist who sings like a jazz artist, pouring notes as if into a cool drink, and honors the songs by exquisitely enunciating the lyrics — something you have to appreciate when she sang Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.” “Can’t believe I have the gall to do this,” she joked before launching into “I’ve got your picture…” Cash confessed she once called her mother to ask her if she ever met Patsy Cline as a child. “Well sure,” her mom said. Wow, there’s something pretty extraordinary about that. Not in a name-dropping kind of a way, for Cash is nothing if not humble. The extraordinary thing is that although the singer lived a sort of musical dream life, rather than simply “cashing in” on her ancestry, she truly honors her forbearers, from her father to Bobbie Gentry (her “Ode to Billy Joe” was the highlight), by keeping their music alive, while also transforming their lessons into her own original work. And it doesn’t hurt to have a killer backup band. “Tennessee Flat Top Box” was punctuated by the swift-fingered guitar playing of Marc Copely, while Leventhal, as bandleader, impressed with his understated agility and good humor, tossing quips back and forth with his wife.
The two have written her upcoming album together and its theme is an examination of the south and Cash’s place in it. “Modern Blue,” a tale of travel, loss, and being found, sounded especially promising.
But whether she’s singing her own tunes or classics, the joy of listening to Rosanne Cash is in hearing someone take such care with each song, cradling it in her throat, honoring each phrase as an individual piece of art. And I don’t care who your daddy is, that kind of talent goes beyond birthright.