“We love you, Rosanne,” shouted a zealous fan last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.
On the receiving end of the adoration was Rosanne Cash. Rather than offering immediate reciprocation (it eventually came), the Americana songstress pondered before replying.
“Well,” she said, “I can be difficult.”
Be that as it may, what was offered during a 2 ½ program, which included a very unexpected intermission, was a cordial travelogue through the South courtesy of Cash’s Grammy winning 2014 album The River & The Thread and assorted delicacies from a career that stretches back well over three decades.
The material from The River & The Thread was presented in bulk at the beginning of the concert with the intention of running sequentially, as on the album. Aided by an expert five man band led by her husband and longtime guitarist/collaborator John Leventhal, Cash offered songs full of Southern inspiration that wasn’t always overt.
The opening A Feather’s Not a Bird was a Zen-like reflection where the open highway led to more than just a physical destination while Modern Blue stretched clear to Europe and back before making its Southern rounds.
Other Southern ruminations were more literal but not necessarily obvious, like a love song to the pioneering Memphis roots music radio station WDIA (50,000 Watts) and a beautifully rendered Civil War themed saga of romance and spiritualism (When the Master Calls the Roll).
Throughout The River & The Thread set were songs of love, family, faith, the earth, the Depression and numerous shades of the blues all delivered by Cash with a clarity and confidence that bordered on the serene and a band that generously colored the plentiful nuances of the melodies Leventhal penned for the songs.
But as richly devoted to the South as The River & The Thread was, it took a guest appearance by Mother Nature to bring the journey to a standstill. Six songs in, a tornado warning was sounded, causing a 20 minute relocation of the audience to the EKU Center’s ground floor level. The interruption was handled efficiently, calmly and professionally by the venue’s staff. A half hour later, Cash was back onstage offering a loose fitting cover of Heartaches by the Number before The River & The Thread music resumed.
A few older favorites concluded the evening, including Cash’s early ‘80s country hit Seven Year Ache and a lively update of father Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Flat Top Box that let Leventhal and bandmate Kevin Barry loose on guitar.
The evening’s true heartbreaker was saved for last with an encore reading of 500 Miles, one of four tunes played from Cash’s 2009 album of country covers, The List. A sentimental quagmire for singers of less finesse, the song’s sense of separation seemed far greater than its title suggested. But with Cash’s dignified singing, the feel was far more intimate yet, ultimately, just as devastating.