Rosanne Cash has earned a reputation for serious -- even weighty -- songwriting. In Williamsburg on Saturday night, the daughter of Johnny Cash performed a set that was loose and joyful -- not pretentious or downcast.
Drawing from her 2009 album "The List," Cash and her guitar-playing husband John Leventhal romped through American roots classics including "Sea of Heartbreak," "Long Black Veil" and "I'm Movin' On."
She also reached deep in her song bag and pulled out the Tom Petty-Benmont Tench track "Never Be You," and "September When It Comes," a 2003 track she wrote with Leventhal.
Her greatest hits were represented by "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me," (which she said was penned after a Grammy awards disappointment), "Tennessee Flat Top Box" and a surprisingly peppy -- even uplifting -- "Seven Year Ache."
One of the night's biggest surprise came with a dramatic version of "Ode to Billie Joe," which Cash sang with enough backwoods flair to rival Bobbie Gentry's original version from 1967. Cheers and a few groans were heard in the audience when she began the tune. By the end, it seemed she seemed to have won over the skeptics.
Deep into the show, Cash remarked, "This is the best-sounding ballroom I've ever heard." It's true -- the sound and lights in the Virginia Room were first-rate. The quality PA helped the audience appreciate the singer's strengths -- her subtle, understated phrasing and rich tone.
Just to give the night a distinctive punctuation mark, Cash invited Williamsburg's own Bruce Hornsby on stage to play accordion on a pair of encore tunes including "Heartaches by the Number," another of those country classics from "The List.""It doesn't get better than this," Cash said at one point in the show. Listening to big talent in a distinctive setting on Saturday, it would have been hard to argue the point.