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Saturday, 11 May 2013 09:03

Concert review: Rosanne Cash brings the past and future to the Sheldon Concert Hall, Friday, May 10

Roseanne Cash and John Leventhal at the Sheldon Concert Hall Roseanne Cash and John Leventhal at the Sheldon Concert Hall Kate McDaniel
Written by Robin Wheeler

"I want to take this hall with me. You're so lucky," Rosanne Cash told the audience at the Sheldon near the end of her set, which began with her calling the century-old venue "one of the best-sounding halls in the whole country."

A great-sounding hall suitable for a great-sounding artist and her regular accompanist (and husband) John Leventhal. Cash is blessed with that unmistakable velvety voice and the skill to use it. Coupled with Leventhal's stunning jazz-leaning guitar stylings, the pair filled the hall with a pristine and evocative set that sampled heavily from the past.

Cash hasn't released an album since 2009's "The List," which dominated the evening's set. The album is a collection of a dozen tracks culled from a list of 100 essential songs Johnny Cash gave his daughter when she was 18. After Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On," Cash commented that she and Leventhal played the song in Helsinki on Monday night to the same enthusiastic response because of its universal timelessness.

"It's the way you do it!" called someone from the audience.

Cash struck a fair balance between giving the audience a bit of her legendary father without sacrificing her own art. Her original "Radio Operator" tells the story of her Air Force radio operator father and the girl in Texas he loved. His military uniform name patch is sewn onto her guitar strap, and she joked that it has its own body guard because she lives in abject terror of losing it.

This wasn't Johnny's show. It was Rosanne and John's, as it should be. She teased that she married him for his bending guitar solo on "The World Unseen," before he took off on an improvised introduction to "Sea of Heartbreak" that left Cash looking a bit confused. He explained that he was doing something a little different, so she stepped back and let him do his thing -- a collision of jazz, country and pop channeled through one acoustic guitar.

The covers continued through "Motherless Children" and a lush pop interpretation of "The Girl From the North Country" with Leventhal on piano. Her father's duet with Dylan led into "The House on the Lake," written by Cash and Leventhal after her father and step-mother's deaths 10 years ago. The song recalls the memories of their Tennessee home and served as a lead-in to "Etta's Tune" from Cash's next album. Tentatively scheduled for an early 2014 release, it will feature Cash and Leventhal compositions exploring the American South. The first taste was a soft, first-person address, telling a partner to not dwell in the past on a hot day on the outskirts of Memphis.

They returned to the cover songs with haunting vocal harmonies on "Long Black Veil," a song so simple in its lyrics and composition that it got its power from the pair's nuanced delivery. They continued with "Ode to Billy Joe," which Leventhal drug into near-blackness, before shining as the star guitarist in "Tennessee Flat-Top Box."

"Modern Blue" from the upcoming album brought Cash back to the country-pop that made her famous thirty years ago. Filled with hooks and a hint of blues guitar, it had more in common with "Seven Year Ache" than the contemplative works of her later catalog.

Cash asked for requests, indulging one for "The Wheel" with Leventhal sitting out, rejoining her on mourning slide guitar for "September When It Comes." After "Burn Down This Town" they ended with "Seven Year Ache" -- her star-making vocals paired with his guitar that replaced any hint of early '80s twang with jazz-influenced licks.

When they returned for their single encore, Cash took advantage of the Sheldon's acoustics for a sing-along of "Heartaches By the Number," winding down with a quiet piano-nudged version of Hedy West's "500 Miles." A lament of being far from home, with a promise to return with the new album next year.

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