Wednesday, July 6, 2011


One of my all-time favourites is playing Saint John Thursday night, thanks to the good folks at Salty Jam. The city's long-running festival is bringing in the excellent singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, in a relatively intimate performance. It's at the Moose Light Tent, uptown on Water Street, the big kick-off event of the three-day festival. A bit more about Rosanne in a second, but first I'll do a background check on Salty Jam.

The festival came about when the old Saint John Jazz and Blues Festival felt it needed an update. As most J and B festivals have discovered along the way, fans wanted to continue the city excitement in the summer, but also wanted to see more of their favourite music invited in. After all, the same people interested in jazz and blues also had lots of folk, rock, country, roots, virtually any genre in their collections, and there was a need to expand the horizons. So Salty Jam was born, not really tied to anything except having a good time. It's been growing ever since, and drawing from outside the city. I know people were keen on getting another chance to see Matt Andersen last year for instance, and willing to make the drive.
That's what I'll be doing Thursday, as a Rosanne Cash show is a great reason to go. I've seen her before, a few years back when she was just starting out on a project called The List. Playing with a full band, she did a couple of cover versions, telling the crowd she was going to do a whole album of classic country songs her father Johnny, who had recently passed, had told her about when she was a kid. Well, that eventually became her hit album The List, 12 songs from the list of 100 Johnny had given her, classics all such as Sea Of Heartbreak, Long Black Veil and Heartaches By The Number. It became a big hit for her, and she's been much indemand since.

This time, you and I will see her in a stripped-down way, acoustic, just her and husband John Levanthal on guitar and vocals. The tent only holds about 700, so that's a nice size, it will feel friendly and close. It's funny that this mature hitmaker, who has been making records since 1979, is still referred to as Johnny's daughter and country star. She's far more of a roots-folk performer now, but that's just a label. She has had plenty of hits on the country charts of course, including a huge 11 Number Ones on the Billboard country chart. But such is the legacy of her father that her own career does get unjustly overshadowed in brief writeups. Not this one! As I say, I'm a huge fan.

Her latest album, since The List, is actually just out, a career-long retrospective which I'm sure will give us many of the songs in the live set. It's called The Essential Rosanne Cash, 36 cuts over 2 CD's with all the hits and a couple of real rareties. Cash worked on the song list herself. Disc one has those early hit country tracks from the 80's mostly, when she had such number ones as Seven Year Ache, Tennessee Flat Top Box, and Runaway Train. Disc 2, which covers 1990 on, sees a dramatic shift, as Cash started to make more introspective records, and took over the great majority of songwriting. The material was more challenging, and probably ages better than the lighter 80's fare, which also had that dated hitmaking production of the day. However, the hits are awfully good, so I tend to forget about the production after a few seconds and get back into the fun. I bet hearing them acoustic will make them all the better.

And don't forget about the rest of Salty Jam, it's three days after all. The excellent bluegrass player A.G. Olmstead is kicking off the event Thursday at 6 PM at the Brigatine Lounge, a nice start. And opening the show for Cash are local, long-standing country-bluegrass favourites Shanklin Road, and Nova Scotia roots singer Ryan Cook. Friday is one of the hot new festival acts, called The Jam Stampede, made of some allstar players from the Jam scene, plus the really hot Cape Breton group Slowcoaster, burning up the charts nationally. And on Saturday, Canadian blues legends Downchild are back, in a rare performance. Donny Walsh has been doing select shows for the group's 40th anniversary, and this is one. The man who brought us Flip, Flop and Fly, immortalized in The Blues Brothers movie, with the full band, Saturday night.

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