Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
Rosanne Cash performed for a sold-out crowd Saturday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of her latest album, The List. The album, like Ms. Cash’s own repertoire, spanning both genres and epochs, is a selection of songs from a list of 100 that her father, Johnny Cash, presented to her in 1973 as a rudimentary syllabus of country, or rather American, songs. Her set drew heavily from the new re-interpretations while mixing in her own classics as well. The crowd (equal parts inebriated yuppies and nostalgic boomers) was excitable yet polite, holding their collective breathes for poignantly delicate numbers like “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” where her guitar danced and curtsied with John Levinthal’s, and “500 Miles.” Other numbers like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Motherless Children” became haunting spirituals over guitar, Ms. Cash’s strong vocals beguiling each with gentle vibrato. However her set wasn’t all downbeat dirges and laments: “Heartaches by the Number” possessed country-twang and “Radio Operator” imbued both her father’s ruggedness and army career. The best song of the evening—and Ms. Cash’s proclaimed favorite on the The List--was “Long Black Veil,” its underlying darkness ruefully exhumed. During the encore Ms. Cash drew from her father’s songbook, playing “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” and forgetting the third verse while her band vamped behind her. It wasn’t a tell of her own age, but revealing her daughter’s request for a list of 100 essential songs was.