Rosanne Cash burned slow and low at Tipitina's, Sunday night

Rosanne Cash
New Orleans Times-Picayune

By Alison Fensterstock

“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” Rosanne Cash apologized to the audience at Tipitina’s, where she performed for the first time Sunday night, December 16.

“But,” she promised, “it’s not gonna be 30 years before I come back.”

Odds are, the enthusiasm of the crowd at Tip’s, played a role in the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s resolve to return. Cash’s emotional and trenchant Americana songs are the sort that inspire a passionate feeling of connection in listeners, and certainly many such fervent fans were Uptown Sunday night. It was not the kind of crowd that drinks, talks and socializes, with the music as backdrop; it was the kind that taps and shushes each other to make sure nobody misses a single word or note. If you arrived even ten minutes or so after 8 p.m., when the doors opened, you would have been out of luck in terms of prime viewing spots; thirty or forty fans were already there, clustered at the front of the stage.

Ms. Cash’s nearly two-hour set simmered along, as she sang slow-burning versions of original songs spanning her career – “Radio Operator,” and “The World Unseen,” from 2006’s Black Cadillac; “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” from 1985’s Rhythm & Romance and “Blue Moon With Heartache,” plus her signature “Seven Year Ache,” from 1981 – as well as several songs from her 2009 album The List, a compilation of covers taken from the now-famous list of 100 essential country songs given to the singer by her father on her 18th birthday.

When not playing her guitar, Cash works her rich, warm instrument and the stage like a jazz singer, with deliberation, control and lots of restrained gesture; her moody, intense covers of familiar songs like Hank Snow’s “Movin’ On,” “Long Black Veil,” and Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” showcased her skill as an interpreter. The crowd hung on every note, prompting the singer to remark, “Such a listening audience, you guys are.”

As the show wore on, Ms. Cash grew chattier and looser, likely due to the appreciative crowd. She offered up a pair of new songs from an upcoming album about the South that she and husband John Leventhal (who accompanied Cash, with masterly guitar work, Sunday night) are working on, which seemed thematically located in the territory she’s so good at: the push and pull of romance and identity, set against images of place, travel and motion.

The singer also started taking requests, although as the mood in the room lightened, she turned down a few pleas for sad songs from some fans down front. (“I’ll take one more request, because I’m having such a good time,” she told them. “But you guys must be depressed. Stop calling out sad songs.”)

Between the lyrical content of Ms Cash’s songs and the relaxed interplay between her and Leventhal – not to mention the growing ease and interaction between the performers and the crowd – it seemed like connecting with one another was the theme of the night. The talented slide guitarist Luke Winslow King and percussionist Esther Rose, who opened with a set of traditional country-blues covers and originals (taken from both their recent album The Coming Tide, and their as-yet-untitled debut project for the Bloodshot Records label, due in March 2013) also shared a palpable warmth with one another, and with the crowd. And what’s better, during the holiday season, than a little musical brotherhood of man?