DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Roseanne Cash @The Library of Congress

With her current husband and guitarist extraordinaire John Leventhal, her former husband award-winning country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, the daughter of The Band's drummer Levon Helm, and once-Wisconsin, now-Nashville-based performer Cory Chisel, Roseanne Cash led a musical round-robin this weekend as part of her 3-day residency at the Library of Congress.

While the songs the artists performed at the round-robin (titled The Long Way Home) were diverse in tempo and style, they all dealt with some aspect of the south and travel.

Cash contributed 3 songs off of her forthcoming CD The River and the Thread, which will be released next month. Critics have described the new effort as a kaleidoscopic examination of the geographic, emotional, and historic landscape of the American South.

"Sunken Lands" is named for the remote Arkansas area where Rosanne's country music giant father Johnny Cash grew up. Her second number "The Long Way Home" draws on the details of Rosanne's life growing up with Cash and her family.

Her final solo number "When the Master Calls the Role" was initially a song Levanthal and Crowell were writing for Emmylou Harris. Cash requested the song after her son Jake researched the Civil War and she reminded him that members of his family had fought on both the Union and Confederate sides. As part of that research, Cash discovered a photo of her ancestor William Cash from Massachusetts.

She asked Crowell to help rewrite the lyrics to make it more like an Appalachian Civil War ballad. "As we worked on it, the character started to obsess me," Cash said. "I'd think about him night and day. I couldn't sleep, and I didn't know how the story would turn out. One morning, the last verse came to me in a flood, and I began to cry - I didn't realize he was going to die until that moment."

Gradually, as she worked on the individual songs, Cash envisioned how she wanted to connect the tunes into a cohesive work which would connect her own story to the rich history of the region. "I guess I weave in and out of these songs in a way," she said. "I don't think I had a complete map of it, but John really became a guide. We would write something and say 'This is part of the geography, both emotional and physical'".

After Cash, Crowell, Helm, and Chsiel each performed 3 solo tunes, all of which were supported by masterful guitar work from Levanthal, the quintet joined to offer 5 of the greatest songs ever written in American roots music. They were:
  • "The Long Black Veil" (recorded by Cash and Helms' fathers)
  • "500 Miles" (one of the songs that Cash included on her CD of covers The List, all of which her father had told her were country greats).
  • "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (one of the signature songs of Helm's father)
  • "Big River" (a huge hit for Cash's father)
  • "I'll Fly Away" (a Southern gospel classic)
Here is a video of Rosanne Cash performing "500 Miles" in 2009.

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