Rosanne Cash was born to country music royalty or, as she titled it onstage, “roots music.” She started her music career as a background vocalist and occasional soloist on one of her father’s tours, making a studio recording debut on one of his albums. The artist has her own commercial and critical success as author as well as vocalist/songwriter/musician, but Johnny Cash cast a profound shadow. “I’ve spent almost 40 years avoiding that very thing (a Johnny Cash show),” she tells collaborator Ry Cooder tonight.
Ry Cooder (musician/vocalist/songwriter/producer/film score composer) has been playing guitar since he was three years old. “I was just a boy in school in 1954/I heard Johnny singin’ on my Sears radio…” he wrote in “Johnny Cash” (from the album I, Flathead.) Performing an occasional tribute show with Rosanne gave him a taste of a concert wedged in the back of his mind. He too hesitated to approach the catalog of someone so cherished. When Cash’s daughter finally floated the idea, Cooder was all in. Mutual respect and affection fills the stage.
Every person in the band is noteworthy in his own right. Musically directed by Cash’s husband, guitarist John Leventhal, arrangements are multilayered and deeply infectious. Employment of an array mbira – kind of a lap harp – by Joachim Cooder adds original resonance. It’s clear the artists are also having a good time.
Numbered among songs are the iconic, here, percussion-centric “I Walk the Line” and hypnotic “Ring of Fire” – FI-AH, with non-balladic treatment, distinct from original recordings, and the touching story-song “I Still Miss Someone.” Also included are selections reflecting Johnny Cash’s southern background, a two-step “Pickin’ Time” with Tex-Mex undertone, and the honky tonk “Get Rhythm”…when you get the blues…
We hear humanist exhortations in three numbers: “Hey, Porter” during which Cooder’s vocal displays additional grit; “Hardin Wouldn’t Run,” that’s John Wesley Hardin, the Old West outlaw; and, the cinematic “Take Your Guns,” with the lyric, And his mother cried as he walked out/Don’t take your guns to town son/Leave your guns at home…which ends, of course in tragedy. This song is an example of the songwriter’s attraction to stories of gunslingers but seems prescient today.
Cash offers personal anecdotes. She thinks of her father as “One of the great southern poets.” Few would argue. Cooder tells the story of being at an Oregon festival when a white stretch limo pulled up to his trailer. Johnny Cash “peeled out” and knocked on his door. “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” “I see that, sir.” “I just wanted to say thank you for recordin’ my song…” “There’s a code. Everybody acknowledges and thanks you for facilitating mailbox money,” Cooder tells us.
“My dad ended every show with a gospel song because he said he wanted to please mom,” prefaces a stirring “I’ll Fly Away.”
The only issue with this marvelous concert is, I’m afraid, a big one. Sound design provided precise music and drowned/ muffled vocals. Ninety-five percent of Cash’s lyrics are lost and perhaps seventy-five percent of Cooder’s. At Stern Auditorium?
Photos: Jennifer Taylor
Opening: John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash, Mark Fain, Ry Cooder, Joachim Cooder
Carnegie Hall presents
Rosanne Cash and Ry Cooder
Cash and Cooder on Cash: The Music of Johnny Cash
Rosanne Cash- Guitar/Vocals; Ry Cooder- Guitar/Vocals
John Leventhal- MD/Guitar
Glenn Patscha- Piano, Mark Fain- Bass, Joachim Cooder- Drums/Array Mbira
Saturday November 2, 2019
Isaac Stern Auditorium