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Country Music Star Lets the Audience Hear 'The Real Me'

January 14, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

Rosanne Cash is something of an anomaly in country music.

She's not one of those hep "new traditionalists," though a few of her songs, like the delightful current hit "Tennessee Flat Top Box," are in that vein. In fact, most of her music is old-style "soft rock" that so often passes for modern country--the sort of thing that purists and critics usually hate. Yet most of these same purists and critics are quite willing to make an exception in Cash's case and all but adore her.

If she can be classified as a country music singer--debatable, though she's certainly a country music star --she is surely the most well-rounded one we have right now. On Monday at the Roxy in West Hollywood, Cash once again demonstrated her impeccable taste in choosing songs as well as writing them, covering challenging material that might be seen as difficult out in the sticks, as well as her universally accessible hits.

Probably first and foremost, Cash remains a great confessional balladeer. She's disarming enough to make you think she's telling you things that maybe you shouldn't hear, as in the recent "The Real Me," a song as nakedly ambivalent and vulnerable as this kind of material gets. And Cash alluded to her well-publicized former bad habits in introducing "If I Could Only Learn to Make You Love Me."

In more upbeat moments--much more so than in her last local appearance two years ago--Cash was able to comfortably look and act the part of the rock 'n' roll thrush, with a low-cut black dress and permed hair, backed by a first-rate band.

The new songs she introduced by Elvis Costello ("Our Little Angel," a brilliant choice) and Steve Goodman were as strong as the familiar highlights from the pens of John Hiatt (her recent No. 1 country hit "The Way We Make a Broken Heart"), her husband, Rodney Crowell, and her own hand. These days, that kind of sound journeywoman essence is vastly under-appreciated by the pop market, so if the country market wants to label and claim her as its own, more power to it.

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