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-- Ronni Reich
Rosanne Cash And Mark O'Connor
Johnny Cash, the cotton farmer's son who bought his career a second act by playing Folsom Prison -- and a third act by recording with the man who gave us the Beastie Boys -- might never have imagined he would get as fancy-companied a tribute as when his daughter Rosanne and fiddler Mark O'Connor played the Library of Congress on Friday night. Everything bespoke polite reverence: From the cover of the program, you'd have thought Cash and O'Connor were tying the knot rather than playing a gig. There was scarcely a pair of jeans in sight.
The concert was an odd twofer: First, O'Connor led pianist Melissa Marse and cellist Arash Amini through "Poets and Prophets," the instrumental encomium to Johnny on which he occasionally strummed with his thumb the neck of the Stradivarius violin he had borrowed from the library. (He assured library staff from the stage that the violin, once owned by the composer Fritz Kreisler, would not be harmed.) In one movement, "My June," O'Connor's fiddle and Amini's cello lines darted 'round each other -- as if they were the musical embodiment of Johnny and wife June Carter moving backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
After intermission, Rosanne Cash performed an hour of songs derived mainly from her 2006 "Black Cadillac" album, with husband-guitarist John Leventhal and bassist Jeff Allen. She was in fine voice throughout, but the second half of her half was better than the first: When O'Connor joined her on "What We Really Want," the whole affair seemed to exhale for the first time. A jaunty take of her father's "Tennessee Flat Top Box" would have been even more welcome earlier, but by the time Cash's trio merged with O'Connor's for "God Is in the Roses" and the haunting standard "Wayfaring Stranger," the ingredients finally gelled into something rare and memorable.
This mature, worthy music didn't feel particularly Johnny, or even all that country. It was a stew with bits of classical, folk, light rock and jazz. But it's as Louis Armstrong said: "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." Johnny would have approved.
-- Chris Klimek