Rosanne Cash, Monteith Riverpark, Albany, Oregon, USA, July 17, 2003
As free concerts-in-the-park go, Rosanne Cash's appearance on the third weekly installment of the 2003 River Rhythms concert series started out as about normal. It was a fairly large crowd, estimated at about 8,000, and moderately attentive. Albany is the hub and county seat of rural, agricultural Linn County, a bastion of "modern country" fans -- but Cash isn't exactly mainstream country any more.
In fact, Rosanne Cash as a performer has never fit neatly into any category: too rock for country, too country for rock throughout much of the '80s and '90s, she's now too country for country, too rock for folk and too pop for rock -- rather like her famous father, the Man in Black himself. But she has a solid fan base among folks who eschew labels when it comes to American music; they tend to also be fans of her Pop, as well as of singers like Emmylou Harris and Cash's ex-husband, Rodney Crowell.
She also has the benefit of one smash country crossover hit from 1981, "Seven-Year Ache," which drew many in the crowd to their feet when she played it early in her 90-minute set. After several calls of "again," she laughingly said "maybe later," and went on with her setlist, which was heavy with numbers from her current effort, Rules of Travel, released in March 2003. Among the best of these were the title track, a catchy if light how-to relationship song, and "September When it Comes," a poignant and touching song which has added gravity on the album, where she performs it as a duet with her father.
She also liberally sprinkled her performance with her back catalog ("The Wheel" and others) and covers, including several drawn from the Cash/Carter archives: Johnny's "Tennessee Flat Top Box," and a couple of Carter Family songs, including the lovely "The Winding Stream." She was joined for these by her sister-in-law, fiddler Laura Cash, a former resident of nearby Corvallis who's married to John Carter Cash, and who backed Johnny's wife, June Carter Cash, before her death in May 2003. It was a touching moment, as Rosanne got to show off yet another family connection, and local fans got to cheer one of their own.
But it was with her first encore that the crowd was electrified, as Cash belted out a stirring rendition of Bob Dylan's cryptic anthem, "License to Kill." "Man thinks 'cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please/and if things don't change soon, he will," she sang, and "Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool/and when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled./Oh, man is opposed to fair play/he wants it all and he wants it his way...who's gonna take away his license to kill?" Onto the end of this song, Cash has appended a rewritten set of lines from John Lennon's "God": "I don't believe in violence, I don't believe in destruction, I don't believe in terrorism, I don't believe in preemption, I don't believe in murder, I don't believe in war."
The song brought many to their feet for a lengthy and noisy ovation; those who missed the point or perhaps disagreed at least listened politely. And in fact, the crowd brought Cash back for a second encore, a ripping take of "707," off her recent Retrospective album. She was backed by a solid band (minus, alas, Teddy Thompson, who played on Rules of Travel and on earlier tour dates), in particular her husband and producer, multi-instrumentalist John Leventhal on searing electric guitar.
Rosanne Cash plans a European tour later this year. Watch her Web site for more details.
Thanks to Rick V., who helped with the set list and lyrics for this review.