By MIKEL TOOMBS
“All Things Considered” would be a good album title for Rosanne Cash.
Cash considers the wide sweep of American musical tradition, from folk to blues and gospel and country, on her current release, “The List.” The recording was culled, she noted last night (May 1) at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, from “the list of 100 essential songs my dad made for me when I was 18.”
The three songs Cash, who turns 55 later this month, performed here that weren’t on “The List” included a pair from her most personal album, “Black Cadillac.” There she contemplated the loss of her mother, Vivian Liberto, stepmother June Carter Cash and dad Johnny Cash in an emotionally compelling manner that “explored the deepest places within us,” in the words of Michele Norris, co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Last night’s offering was part concert (the best part, not surprisingly), part revealing interview (by Norris) and part, well, “All Things NPR.” The last-named was a series of Mother’s Day tributes by NPR personalities that will be included in the Cash-based, one-hour program airing on public-radio stations next weekend. (“NPR On Location With Rosanne Cash” was sponsored by KUOW and KPLU, along with Oregon Public Broadcasting.)
The focus worked for Cash, who is the mother of five, at least if one includes (as she does) a stepdaughter contributed by former husband Rodney Crowell. An unexpected highlight was a vintage-sounding country song by Chelsea Crowell (a co-production), the first time, Cash said, the daughter and mother had performed together. (Crowell apparently demanded her own “list,” and Mom would include The Beatles and Neil Young: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” or maybe “Cowgirl in the Sand.”)
Cash recalled that her own mother, a strict Catholic, had instilled the discipline so necessary for her as writer. (As well as being a songstress, she has a memoir, “Composed,” coming out in August.) And her stepmother, Cash said, “was insane, in the best possible way.”
She also remembered Helen Carter, June’s sister, who taught her guitar and, more important, the Carter Family repertoire: “This is yours,” Carter told Cash. “Keep this alive.”
Cash kept the tradition alive with moving versions of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and also “The Sea of Heartbreak,” a Don Gibson favorite that found her partnered on “The List” with Bruce Springsteen: “Tonight,” Cash said, “the part of Bruce Springsteen will be played by John Leventhal,” her “life partner” of 15 years (and one day), musical collaborator (he produced “The List”) and “taller half.”
An appropriate finale, a request no less, was a gorgeous version of the timeless “Motherless Children.”
Here’s a link to Cash’s Web site.
For an earlier story on the NPR show, click here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mikel Toombs writes a weekly music column for the San Diego News Network.)