As a Nashville-based artist with a string of country hits, Rosanne Cash has had a hard time convincing the rest of the music world, especially radio programmers, that she is one of America's great pop songwriters and singers.
There was no problem at the Warner Theatre Friday night, however, as Cash swept away an enthusiastic audience with a mesmerizing set of original songs and covers that were both lyrically smart and emotionally rich.
Even in a concert setting, Cash's luxurious voice and precise phrasing conveyed an intimacy that granted all of her material the drama of the most personal revelations.
Cash was ably supported by a crack quartet that was able to delicately embellish her most private ballads and then switch to a hot rockabilly attack on aggressive rockers like "My Baby Thinks He's a Train." Local guitar ace Steuart Smith was the chief architect of the band's sympathetic instrumental support, and his carefully sculpted solo at the end of "I Don't Have to Crawl" brought the song to a cathartic conclusion.
Cash displayed an incredible ability to get to the heart of any song, which may be why material by Steve Forbert, John Stewart and John Hiatt -- even the Supremes' "Come See About Me" -- all became her artistic property.
The show was opened by another gifted singer/songwriter, Steve Earle. His nasal twang is nothing pretty, but it added the proper element of redneck authenticity to his tales of angry young men in the South. With his band delivering a potent meld of hillbilly and rock 'n' roll, Earle rocked through his set with reckless vigor, reaching a peak in his anthemic and autobiographical "I Ain't Never Satisfied."