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Rosanne Cash performs intimate L.A. house concert in advance of her Grammy Museum appearance

October 5, 2010 |  5:01 pm

Rosanne Cash 2 
Rosanne Cash is back in Southern California this week, having swept through in August on a promotional tour for her New York Times bestseller “Composed: A Memoir,” in which she sorts through her life through the prism of the songs she’s written, sung or heard over her 55 years.

Between an appearance on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” on Monday night and a scheduled question-answer-performance session tonight at the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A., the singer-songwriter and her musical collaborator husband, John Leventhal, took time for a living-room performance Tuesday morning in the Hollywood Hills home of author, KCRW-FM deejay and music supervisor Gary Calamar.

The intimate setting, packed with several dozen guests, provided an ideal forum for Cash to read a passage from “Composed,” in which she recalled rooting through writing assignments she’d done as a schoolgirl. She recalled plucking the phrase “A lonely road is a bodyguard” from one of those old papers. The mature writer in her admired her youthful choice of a metaphor rather than a simile (which would have made it “A lonely road is like a bodyguard”), then dropped it into the song “Sleeping in Paris,” from her 1993 album, “The Wheel,” with which she started her short set.

As a veteran herself of the countless living-room gatherings hosted by her father, Johnny Cash, and stepmother, June Carter Cash, Rosanne seemed eminently at home, casually chatting between songs, making up the set list as she and Leventhal went along. She drew a couple of songs from her powerful 2006 album, “Black Cadillac,” her  first following the deaths of Johnny, June and her mother, Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto.

And she pulled one, the traditional “Motherless Children,” from “The List,” her 2009 album of songs culled from the roster of 100 roots country, folk, blues, gospel  and rock songs that Johnny Cash gave her in her teens when he feared she hadn’t been exposed to the broad swath of what constitutes American music.

"The List," in fact, could be a wildcard choice for album of the year in the upcoming Grammy Awards balloting. Like Herbie Hancock's 2007 album of Joni Mitchell songs, "The River," the similarly named "The List" was created by a long-respected artist that also honors another celebrated musical figure by extension. Could it happen again?

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of John Leventhal and Rosanne Cash at the Hollywood Hills house concert on Tuesday. Credit: Tom DeSavia