Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal Live in Leeds
We were, enthused Rosanne later on Twitter, “a wildly wonderful audience”, adding that “it was a thrill to be Live at Leeds! I wonder if anyone else has said that?”
Well, thank you kindly Rosanne, but it was a wildly wonderful show from you and husband John that inspired that joyful reaction.
In the sort of funky joint that I suspect neither of them will have played in for a while, the show was supposed to, essentially, be a warm-up for some upcoming high-profile festival appearances around Europe, including this weekend’s Cambridge Folk Festival. But the show, running at nearly twice the length of her likely festival set, turned into something much more freewheeling and celebratory than that.
Of course, it drew heavily on her The River & Thread album, a uniquely kaleidoscopic and thrilling examination of the geographic, emotional, and historic landscape of the American South, reflecting the country, blues, gospel and rock music that inevitably traces its history to the region.
It’s a record, Rosanne told me recently, that she feels “ties past and present together through all those people and places in the South I knew and thought I had left behind” and it’s a serious contender for Album Of The Year if you ask me.
But she also dipped freely into The List, based on her dad Johnny’s list of essential American songs, and Black Cadillac, heavily influenced and shaped by the death of her famous dad and stepmother June Carter. The generous selections from her hit-making days – Seven Year Ache, Runaway Train and Tennessee Flat Top Box – all helped to make this feel like something genuinely special.
She sounded like an artist at the height of her powers, embracing her heritage, for sure, and coming to her own terms with it, but celebrating her own unique sensibility and adventures through it. Oh, and having a heck of a lot of fun too.
She also recently told me that, as much as it was an exploration of the feelings that travelling through the American South opened up in them both, The River & The Thread was also “a picture of a marriage” and that John’s part in its making was such that she wanted it to be credited to him as well. His importance to the project and her music was abundantly plain at this wonderful show, though, guiding it all as unobtrusively as possible when there are only the two of you on a small stage. He even leaned over at one point to tune her guitar as he continued playing his own, rewarded with a kiss in a gesture that was as genuine as it was funny.
The songs from The River & The Thread were often preceded with little vignettes about the circumstances of their writing, delivered with enough of the darkly thrilling about them to have a young girl next to me promising to take her boyfriend one day to visit the Delta. A personal favourite, which always chokes me up when I hear it, was When The Master Calls the Roll, but songs like Modern Blue, The Sunken Lands, A Feather’s Not A Bird, Etta’s Tune and 50,000 Watts are all master-classes in evocative lyrical precision, delivered here with a persuasiveness that was perfectly counterpointed by Leventhal’s quietly spectacular musicianship. Encouraged by her rapport with the audience, the set-list went temporarily by the board as she let go with such crowd-pleasing country classics as Heartaches By The Number and I’m Moving On, even Girl From The North Country, albeit in a version which owed more to Dylan’s original than to his famous duet version with her dad.
It was heartfelt, it was fun for all concerned, and there were some of the best songs in modern American music to enjoy, a combination which all added up to a “wildly wonderful” event.
Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal were at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on July 29, 2014
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