Do some YouTube digging and you'll come upon a 34-year-old television show: a very '70s Christmas special with the Cash family. Johnny deadpans, duets with June, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, has a few awkward exchanges with a leisure-suited young comedian named Steve Martin and closes by welcoming his six girls onto the stage: Carlene, Tara, Rosanne, Cindy, Kathy and Rosey. Together, they perform the somber highlight of the program, a half-Jerusalem, half-Nashville chorale reading of "Silent Night" dedicated to "Mother" Maybelle, banjo-scratching matriarch of the Carter Family, who had died two months prior.
That year, at age 23, eldest daughter Rosanne was born again as a recording artist; within two years she would bank two hit records on Columbia, three No. 1 singles and her own decorated wing in the Cash estate. In typecast family and country fashion, that outburst was followed by a 27-year ache, much of which she shared in song. Jailbreak rocker King's Record Shop saw her reaching beyond the trappings of genre, name and fame. Commercially inert but artistically pure, Interiors laid bare the failings of her relationship with husband/producer Rodney Crowell. On stand-alone follow-up The Wheel, she found a new partner, John Leventhal, whom she met in New York City and married shortly after. In early 2006, Cash released the elegiac Black Cadillac, wrapping a 36-month span in which she buried her father, mother and stepmother; the following year, she underwent emergency surgery for a brain malformation.
Her music on hiatus, she documented the process in candid writings for The New York Times ("Well, Actually, It Is Brain Surgery"), for which she became a regular contributor. Her last album, 2009's The List (Manhattan), is a hard-earned reprieve, though not without its own hardships: a selection of a dozen covers, ranging from Hal David to Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan, from a list of 100 favorites given to her by her father when she was 18, lifting (one hopes) the long black veil at last. New Orleanian and Bloodshot Records recruit Luke Winslow-King opens. Tickets $25. — Noah Bonaparte Pais