Review | Rosanne Cash at UCSB

Songstress Soars as Songwriter

Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal | Credit: Courtesy

Strong impressions surfaced at Rosanne Cash’s Campbell Hall appearance, in symbiotic cahoots with guitarist/co-creator/husband John Leventhal. For one, Cash is one of the more enduringly important artists in the progressive roots avenue of American music. She embodies the notion of aging gracefully, with creative fires burning — and there is the holy lineage factor, as an offspring of Johnny Cash.

By this point in her 40-plus-year career, Cash has also broached that rare quality of timelessness. On March 4 at Campbell Hall, she duly dipped into the early years, with “Blue Moon with Heartache,” written as a 23-year-old Californian (she grew up in Casitas Springs and Ventura), and her radio-hit chestnut “Seven Year Ache.”

But the show’s real fortitude was on fascinating newer work from her triple-Grammy-nabbing The River and the Thread (2014), her carefully-curated cover album The List, and 2018’s potent She Remembers Everything. Her diving expedition into Cash genealogy yielded such concert highlights as “Sunken Lands,” about her intrepid grandmother, songs reckoning with her late, legendary father, and a Civil War Cash family saga, “When the Master Calls the Roll.”

“Women my age still have a lot to say,” the 64-year-old Cash told the audience, “and a lot less time to say it.” Her set teemed with profound ideas and songs beautifully crafted, including the title track “She Remembers Everything” (co-written with Sam Phillips), the mortality pondering “Crossing to Jerusalem,” and the ripe concert-opener, “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For.” (The “thing” is love).

Photo: SAM ESTY RAYNERRosanne Cash’ with guitarist/co-creator/husband John Leventhal

Original songbook aside, Cash and Levanthal also gave personalized, renewed power to choice covers, such as “Long Black Veil,” “Ode to Billie Joe,” (with extra gothic gravitas), and an encore of “Wayfaring Stranger.” Just as her father soared as both songwriter and song interpreter — especially in his later Rick Rubin-produced era — Cash connects dots of familial, historical, and music cultural cross-influences.

On “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” Cash offered up telling self-reflection on the refrain: “A feather’s not a bird/The rain is not the sea/A stone is not a mountain/But a river runs through me.” Indeed, it does.   

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