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NPR Music

Rosanne Cash On Mountain Stage

Rosanne Cash, seen here performing at the We're All For The Hall benefit concert in 2013.
Rosanne Cash, seen here performing at the We're All For The Hall benefit concert in 2013.

Updated April 22, 2021 at 12:23 PM ET

In the past 20 years, Rosanne Cash has walked the line between author, essayist and songwriter, and feels right at home in the well-earned creative space she has carved out.

Recorded in her adopted city of New York, this epic 2008 Mountain Stage live show at the historic Town Hall was an embarrassment of riches for songwriting fans. On the bill with Cash was Billy Bragg, Rodney Crowell and two of Canada's finest, Bruce Cockburn and women's music star Ferron.

On such a show, in such hallowed writing company, Cash stripped her songs down to a gracefully distilled essence: just her voice and the sparse instrumentation of her husband John Leventhal on guitar and Jeff Allen on bass.

Cash opened with two songs, "Dreams Are Not My Home," and "The World Unseen," from Black Cadillac, an album that bubbled from a well of grief in the wake of the 2003 deaths of her father and stepmother — Johnny and June Carter Cash — and the 2005 passing of her mother — Vivian, Johnny's first wife.

"Cause I wanna live inside the world / I wanna act like a real girl / I wanna know I'm not alone / And the dreams are not my home" Cash sang in the opener.

After years performing with her dad, Cash knows how to play to an audience. In introducing "The World Unseen," she slyly dripped out some ice-breaking stage banter about being on a bill with her ex-husband and fellow Nashville Songwriting Hall of Fame member Rodney Crowell, with whom she has three daughters.

"It's really a pleasure to be back at Mountain Stage and get to play with so many people I love and admire, including some I used to be married to," Cash said as the audience roared with laughter, "and including someone I am married to: this is John Leventhal on guitar."

Crowell joined them in a set-closing highlight, a duet of "No Memories Hanging Around," a song he wrote and she cut with Bobby Bare on her 1979 debut, Right or Wrong.

Mid-set, Cash shared Don Gibson's 1961 classic "The Sea of Heartbreak," culled from her father's list of the 100 best country and pop songs he handed her when she turned 18. That song was featured on her 2009 album, The List.

Then she dove into deeper, darker Nashville waters. Cash, who had her own struggles with addiction during her country stardom run in the 1980s, shared Townes Van Zandt's "Two Girls," a song about an addict's daily struggle with the angels and devils he couldn't outrun.

Copyright 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit West Virginia Public Broadcasting.