Even with her considerable success in the commercial country world, Rosanne Cash has always had a strong streak of rocknroll in her. Her early albums, cut with then-hubby Rodney Crowell, were mainly "country" only by proxy -- soul, pop and synth-rock seem like they were equal influences. Still, when you're Johnny Cash's daughter, I suppose folks expect you to have a little twang when you sang. I've been a fan of Rosanne's work for a long, long time -- love that voice, love the lyrics, and love her heartfelt approach to her very personal songwriting. Here's a quick look at her records and writing.
Rosanne Cash "Rosanne Cash" (Ariola, 1978)
(Produced by Rodney Crowell & Bernhard Vonficht)
Rosanne Cash "Right Or Wrong" (Columbia, 1979)
(Produced by Rodney Crowell)
A classic Cash-Crowell collaboration, and a really stunning debut. This disc sets the pace for Rosanne's long-lived poppish orientation, with plenty of bright, 80s-ized production that might make lovers of twangier tunes wince, but Rosanne has a great torchiness that makes haunting emotional mini-masterpieces out of brokenhearted ballads like "Couldn't Do Nothin' Right," "No Memories Hanging 'Round," "Anybody's Darling" and "Take Me Take Me." A bit goopy, but I love it. She also takes a stab at more traditional material (mainly on a cover of "Big River"), just so's the folks who wanna see what daddy's little girl sounds like won't be disappointed in her country chops. This is probably my favorite of her albums, and a real triumph for both her and Rodney Crowell, who produced it for her.
Rosanne Cash "Seven Year Ache" (Columbia, 1981)
(Produced by Rodney Crowell)
Rodney's early albums tended to be more idiosyncratic and rootsy, showcases for a budding songwriter, while Rosanne was more of a star performer. Nonetheless, Rodney's instincts as a record producer served them well, as this groovy followup album quickly proved... The poppy, synth-driven title track showed that Rosanne and her hubby were a little more adventurous than your typical Nashville grinds... It also hit the country Top Forty and had a bit of crossover action, showing that they had some chart-wise savvy... plus, it's just so darned catchy. A guilty pleasure if ever there was one.
Rosanne Cash "Somewhere In The Stars" (Columbia, 1982)
(Produced by Rodney Crowell)
This is probably Rosanne's most "mersh," and drippiest, album, although there's still some great stuff to check out. Naturally, the temptation is to read into these lovelorn lyrics the ups-and-downs of her marriage with Rodney Crowell, who was still on board as her collaborative partner. I'm sure that assumption is warranted, but I'll be darned if I could (or should) piece out what is fact and what is fiction. All I know is this disc is worth checking out, even though it's not my favorite of her works.
Rosanne Cash "Rhythm And Romance" (Columbia, 1985)
(Produced by David Malloy & Rodney Crowell)
On this album, Rodney and Rosanne gave full reign to their rocker impulses, and while later on this would lead to disasterous results, here it sounds pretty cool. "Pink Bedroom" is a bouncy John Haitt tune with an irresistible acoustic guitar hook worthy of early Neil Diamond; Rosanne's keyboard-heavy "Halfway House" is mopey and completely over-the-top, and I love it, too. In fact, most of the songs on here are pretty soulful and effective, reflecting Rosanne's growing power both as a vocalist and as a songwriter. She wrote all but three of the songs on here, and one of those exceptions is actually a co-write with Crowell... A very good album, which holds up pretty well over the years.
Rosanne Cash "King's Record Shop" (Columbia, 1987)
Finally giving in to the screaming hordes who want her to do a "real country record," Rosanne got a little down-home and did her Carter Family kin proud, with solid renditions of tunes like "Tennessee Flat Top Box" and John Haitt's "The Way We Make a Broken Heart..." The rootsy approach paid off with several #1 hits, and plenty of satisfied smiles all around. Great record. She really shifted gears later on, but this disc let folks know that she had the real hillbilly goods on hand, any time she wanted them...
Rosanne Cash "Interiors" (Columbia, 1990)
(Produced by Rosanne Cash)
Rosanne's first self-produced album was a pretty definitive break from the pop-country formulae of her hitmaking years, and, generally speaking, a pretty bold move to make for someone who'd been so successful at cracking into the Top Ten, album after album. I have to admit, I counted myself among those inflexible twang-fans who wouldn't make the leap into her densely-layered pop confessionalism. Now that I'm older, I'm a little more forgiving, and can give credit where credit is due: this album was a good half decade ahead of the widely lauded, similarly un-country Emmylou Harris album, Wrecking Ball, and was a real shocker for fans unprepared for the patent confessionalism and opaque poetics within. I still find some of the musical moves to be a bit broad and poorly formed, but even if she was groping to convey a new vocabulary, Cash's voice is one to be heeded. And this disc certainly sets the template for her next few albums, and needs to be heard to "get" how she got from there to here. (Why does she look so darn mean on the cover, though?)
Rosanne Cash "The Wheel" (Columbia, 1993)
(Produced by Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal)
Again, Rosanne was there first with the post-twang trip-hop sound, and frankly I think she did it better than any of her female compatriots. Unlike Emmylou and Lucinda Williams, who both went all swirly and super-produced a few years later, Rosanne's voice is really suited to the style, and her instincts about where to stop -- how not to let the studio magics overpower her own artistic voice -- are much stronger than theirs proved to be. This is possibly Cash's best album in terms of her vocal performance -- her tone, phrasing and restraint are all absolutely gorgeous. There are a few moments when producer John Leventhal's arrangements get a little cluttered or intrusive, but on the whole this a very skillfully crafted, delicate album, which, despite the seamless construction, still feels alive and like somebody's actually playing music rather than filling in the blank spots during their studio sessions. It's definitely worth checking out, one of the best albums of its kind.
Rosanne Cash "Ten Song Demo" (Capitol, 1996)
(Produced by Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal)
On this demurely-titled album, Rosanne retreats from the lavishness of her last couple of albums, recording a weary dektette of tunes, mostly just guitar and vocals, and plenty of great lyrics. The third track, "The Summer I Read Collette," signals her literary aspirations; the rest of the album fulfills them. Whether or not Cash ever really thought about expanding these songs into full-on big-pop arrangements is kind of besides the point -- she didn't, and we're all the more fortunate she had the wisdom to hold back. Nothing here obscures her songcraft, her artistic voice comes through loud and clear (even while muted and downcast), and this album is a quiet glint of genius and musical integrity. Recommended.
Rosanne Cash "Rules Of Travel" (Capitol, 2003)
I love her voice, and the lush production has its allures as well, but in general, this record seems a bit too lush and "adult contemporary" for me. Fans of Interiors will probably love it, but I found this to be a little too hard to work through. Mostly the music is just not my cup of tea. (Sorry!) Almost, but not quite.
Rosanne Cash "Black Cadillac" (Capitol, 2006)
Poor Rosanne! In the space of two years, her father, her mother and stepmother (June Carter Cash) all passed away. That's a lot of sadness to shoulder. But, as longtime fans know, Rosanne has a lot of experience exploring her emotions through her art. What's best about this album is that, in addition to the expected existential wallop, it also rises out of the baroque adult-contemporary pop production of her last few albums, with Rosanne reconnecting to her inner twang in ways that are penetrating and entirely original. The lyrics are pointed and bleak, with an aching and agony interlaced with a shocking amount of bitterness and anger. On some of the later tracks, her rage against religion may come like a bolt from the blue -- you'd think maybe she'd turn the other way, as many folks do when this kind of loss strikes, but not Rosanne, and this is just one fo the ways she sets herself apart from her famously gospel-drenched daddy. Indeed, Black Cadillac is most striking in that it is not a simple homage or tribute to her father, it is a dark, dense, complex work from a woman who has a strong sense of self and whose talent and intelligence was influenced by but not entirely derived from her parents. What emerges is a powerful inner portrait of one of country's most introspective, soul-searching artists. She may have explored emotions as deep as these before, but never with such directness or fiery intensity. Although it's not exactly a radio-friendly toe-tapper, this is possibly her best album to date -- definitely worth checking out.
Rosanne Cash "Rolling Stone Original" (EP) (Capitol, 2006)
A nice download-only 4-song acoustic EP, recorded for Rolling Stone magazine... Includes a couple of her more wrenching recent soul-searchers, "Black Cadillac" and "God Is In The Roses."
Rosanne Cash "The List" (Manhattan, 2009)
Lush, beautiful, lingering renditions of various country and folk standards... As legend has it, when Rosanne turned eighteen, her father -- Johnny Cash -- gave her a list of his picks for the top 100 most vital country songs. She kept the list for decades, and after her parents passed away, finally felt it as time for her to tackle the canon, according to Cash. On some songs, such as her remake of the Hank Snow classic, "I'm Moving On," Cash goes so far out of her way to distinguish her version from the original that the song itself seems to get a little lost. On others, though, she really nails it, notably "Long Black Veil" (with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy as a guest performer), the Patsy Cline weeper "She's Got You," and Dylan's "Girl From The North Country," which she retains as a spectral Appalachian/Celtic folk ballad. The album closes with a Carter Family song, "Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow," which touches on the themes of death and reconciliation that have shadowed Cash's work over the last few years -- hard years in which she's lost both her parents and had major health problems herself. But in her embrace of her own country roots, Rosanne has also embraced life, hope and continuity in a way that few others could. A nice record, certainly worth checking out.
Rosanne Cash "The Good Intent" (EP) (Capitol, 2009)
Another download-only EP, featuring a duet with Johnny Cash on "September When It Comes."
Rosanne Cash "The River And The Thread" (Blue Note, 2014)
Rosanne Cash "Hits: 1979-1989" (Columbia, 1989)
Rosanne Cash "Retrospective" (Columbia, 1995)
This best-of also includes a half-dozen "new" songs, recorded between 1982-'95... pretty tasty stuff.
Rosanne Cash "The Country Side" (Sony Special Products, 1996)
If you don't want all that fancypants artsy stuff, and just wanna hear "how country" the gal could be, then it might be worth your while to track this disc down. All Rosanne's twangiest tunes, in a nice neat little package.
Rosanne Cash "Super Hits" (Sony Columbia, 1998)
Rosanne Cash "The Very Best Of Rosanne Cash" (Sony-BMG/Columbia Legacy, 2005)
Rosanne Cash "The Essential Rosanne Cash" (Sony Legacy, 2011)
This expansive 2-CD best-of could help save a lot of shelf space for CD-oriented fans, gathering material from throughout Cash's career. It kicks off with "Can I Still Believe In You," a lone track from her long-lost 1978 debut, an out-of-print rarity that was released in Europe, but never in the States. Then come the Rodney Crowell years, where she and he helped sculpt a hip new country sound, melding artful, introspective lyrics with big, hook-heavy production -- just the right mix to take her to the top of the country charts throughout the early '80s. There are a bunch of missing songs that I, personally, would have added here (especially "Couldn't Do Nothin' Right" and "Take Me Take Me") but with a collection like this, you can't have everything. Disc One contains primarily her younger, Crowell-related material, including gems such as the smash hit, "Seven Year Ache" and "My Baby Thinks He's A Train"; Disc Two encompasses her later, more introspective albums, with standouts that include her tribute to her father, "September When It Comes," and a smattering of songs from the List album. There are, of course, several duets gathered here as well, including a nice one with Vince Gill and a fun version of Don Gibson's "Sea Of Heartbreak," sung with Bruce Springsteen. All in all, a great introduction to a thoughtful, potent, spiritually mature artist - definitely worth a spin!
Rosanne Cash "Bodies Of Water" (Hyperion, 1995)
Short stories and reminiscences, some of which may be of particular interest to Carter Family devotees, as Rosanne talks about her grandmother and other family folks.
Rosanne Cash "Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale" (Harper Collins, 2000)
Rosanne wrote the text for this children's book, and recorded a song which comes in an accompanying CD. It's a very sweet story about a well-meaning fairy who causes unintentional havoc when she accompanies her (human) best friend to school one day. As a professional songwriter, Rosanne has a slight advantage over the legions of would-be rhymers out there writing children's picturebooks: the rhymes and meter in this text are quite good, and the story has a charming, puckish feel, which is matched by the delightful illustrations by G. Brian Karas, one of my favorite picturebook illustrators. We enjoyed this a lot! Definitely worth tracking down.
Hick Music Index
Top photo used by permission. (Thanks, Rosanne!)