Classy, pristine, artful and a little dull — that’s Roseanne Cash’s music now that she’s long since left her Nashville roots behind and become a happily married, sophisticated New Yorker. After a long absence from the performing circuit, Cash was in rich voice and fine form at the House of Blues Tuesday, showcasing songs from her new Capitol disc “Rules of Travel” alongside her lead guitarist and husband, John Leventhal.
Cash’s expressive vocals — despite a polyp on her vocal cords that sidelined her for a spell — have suffered not at all from the days in the early ’80s when the Grammy winner burst onto the smart side of the country scene with her L.A.-meets-Tennessee stylings.
Enhancing the music with graceful hand movements, Cash kicked off the show with “44 Stories” and “Hope Against Hope,” both standout examples of the literate songwriting craft that has earned critical raves for the new disc, released in March.
Cash kept the show tight and focused, despite playing to a half-capacity crowd (many were likely drawn away by the competing Neil Young/Lucinda Williams pairing across town at the Greek). She sang alone on the new album’s highlight, “September When It Comes,” with nary a reference afterward to her ailing father, whose duet on the record brings heart-stopping resonance to lines such as “I cannot move a mountain now/I can no longer run.”
Most prominent element of her show, apart from her vocals, is the adroit, melodic guitar playing of Leventhal. Yet while he plays with verve and imagination, cake-walking the melody on a pulsing rock treatment of “Seven Year Ache,” his style lacks the sting and flavor of the Nashville cats Cash once preferred.
That difference was most critical on “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” in which the professorial-looking New Yorker was plainly miscast as the legendary young country picker who drew them from miles around; he eventually took the solo in a jazz-tinged direction.
Show took off in the final third, when the five-man band cut loose on rocking treatments of topnotch tunes, “Runaway Train” among them, that recalled the long-ago days when Cash ran around Music City with Rodney Crowell. He was the clever songwriter whose hold on her heartstrings yielded the achy breaky classics that launched Cash’s career — the kind of heartache that seemed a long way from the stage Tuesday — which is just what you want in life, but not necessarily in music.