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Feature Reviews: Rosanne Cash, The Essential Rosanne Cash; and Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and The Spirit Of Southern Music, by Michael Streissguth

Two new works give a broad overview of Roseann Cash's personal and musical life. (Photo by Craig Harris.)

Rosanne Cash
The Essential Rosanne Cash
[Sony/Legacy (2011)]

Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and The Spirit Of Southern Music
by Michael Streissguth
(De Capo Press (2011)]

As Johnny Cash’s oldest daughter, Rosanne Cash was born into country music royalty. Though she scored her first top 20 hit with a mainstream country duet with Bobby Bare (“No Memories Hangin’ Round”), she’s consistently added a modern sensibility and deeply personal view to her musical roots. Wielding the pen of a poet, and the voice of an angel, Cash continues to set the foundation for such sharp-penned female country-folk songwriters as Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, and Suzzy Boggus. Covers of songs by John Hiatt (“The Way We Make A Broken Heart”), Tom Petty (“Never Be You”), original Asleep At The Wheel member Leroy Preston (“My Baby Thinks He’s A Train”), the Beatles (“I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”), and her father (“Tennessee Flat Top Box”) reflect the breathe of her influences.

Spanning three decades of recordings, the 36 tracks on The Essential touches on each step of Cash’s growth. Kicking off with “Can I Still Believe In You,” from her self-titled debut release on German label, Ariola, the first CD covers the five hit-laden albums that Cash and her then-husband, producer Rodney Crowell, recorded for Columbia between 1979 and 1985; her break from country music following their divorce; and introspective songwriting in the early-1990s. In addition to 17 of Cash’s country charts entries, including eleven number-one country hits, the disc includes duets with Vince Gill (“If It Weren’t For Him”) and Crowell (“It’s Such A Small World”).

With the 18 songs on the second disc, covering 1995 to 2009, Cash’s heart gets to do the talking. From the opening tracks—“The Real Me” and “On The Surface”—the pretense is gone. This is no longer a singer aiming for a hit, but an artist using song to explore the harsh, often heart-breaking, side of life. Collaborating with guitarist, producer, and second husband John Leventhal, she views life in New York (“Seventh Avenue”), recalls briefly living abroad (“Sleeping In Paris”), and yearns for emotional release (“I Want A Cure”). She faces mortality during “September When It Comes,” a duet sung with her obviously ailing father, and mourns the loss of her father, mother, stepmother, and stepsister within a two period, during “Black Cadillac” and “House On The Lake.”

The collection concludes with three tunes from Cash’s 2009 album of covers, “The List,” based on a list of 100 essential songs that she received from her father when she was 18. She brings new life to folksinger Hedy West’s “500 Miles,” duets with Bruce Springsteen on Don Gibson’s 1961 country hit, “Sea Of Heartbreak,” and features mandolin player Chris Thile on ‘Sweet Memories,” previously available only as a bonus track on Border Book’s version of “The List.”

Framed around a 5-month period when “The List” was recorded and Cash toured Europe, Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and The Spirit Of Southern Music presents an artist who’s as real as her songs. Based on interviews while on tour, at home in New York, and in the studio, author Michael Streissguth (who previously penned three books on Johnny Cash) provides glimpses of Cash’s family relationships; memories of her father, her mother (Vivian Liberto), and her stepmother (June Carter); her two marriages; her emotional growth as a songwriter; her rebellion against country music’s hierarchy; her recuperation from brain surgery; and her role as a mother of two children.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)


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