[22 December 2005]
Rosanne Cash has always had a looming shadow over her career in that her daddy was Johnny. She knows that, everybody knows that. But over the course of the last quarter century, she’s been more than capable of carving her own mark in music circles, forging ahead with music that stays true to herself while at the same time breaking new ground.
Cash has a new album on the horizon entitled Black Cadillac, set for an early 2006 release, but for now fans will have to make do with a four-pack of material that includes a great compilation as well as reissued earlier albums, including the rockier but still somewhat country flavor of 1981’s Seven Year Ache. This album was Cash’s second for Columbia, and it shows how she was able to mix whatever styles she was interested at the time to fit cohesively on an album. The record gets off to a jumpy sort of tempo with “Rainin’” that sounds just a bit dated but showcases Cash’s unique, smooth, and extremely alluring voice.
The highlight of Seven Year Ache was and remains the title track, which is a great pop tune that still managed to climb country charts. It’s as if Rosanne Cash was blazing the way for what would come later on in the ‘80s with the country pop crossover onset. While the synthesizer isn’t really needed on the track, Cash carries the song with the grace, ease, and innate pop sensibility that has made her one of the originals in today’s music. She’s the female equivalent of Neil Finn. This is also apparent on the ensuing light, melancholia ballad entitled “Blue Moon With Heartache”. Despite the fact that Cash only wrote two of the songs here, her covers suit her to a tee, particularly the slow burning rocker “What Kinda Girl?” “I’m here for lovin’ but I ain’t no slut!” she sings prior to the bridge featuring guitarist Albert Lee and Booker T. tickling the ivories.
The album showed how diverse Cash was, whether it was the rock pop tunes or the catchy old-school rockabilly fuelling “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train” or the mid-tempo pop sleeper “Only Human” that features Vince Gill and former beau Rodney Crowell on guitar, or the mountain-esque “Where Will The Words Come From?” with Emmylou Harris helping on harmonies. The lone song that seems like a stretch is the swinging cover of Tom Petty’s “Hometown Blues” which is decent at best. However, the bonus material is a nice addition, including a 1993 version of “Seven Year Ache”.
The second of these reissues is King’s Record Shop which Cash record in 1987 following 1985’s Rhythm & Romance that starts with the punchy pop of “Rosie Strike Back”, a good tune that is another one of her staple or signature tunes. Cash sounds more confident on this album, bringing to mind an early forerunner of albums The Mavericks would come up with. A great example of this is the Tex-Mex hue that colors the lovely “The Way We Make a Broken Heart” written by John Hiatt. The album seems a tad stronger overall than Seven Year Ache, with airtight pop songs with great melodies as is the case with “If You Change Your Mind” or softer, ballad-like efforts such as “The Real Me”.
But while the highlight of the album is her signature tune (although it’s her father’s) “Tennessee Flat Top Box”, one could definitely argue that “Runaway Train” (and its live version as a bonus track) is what makes this album flow so perfectly. This is a stellar and quite infectious pop tune with deft hooks. The longer it goes on with a hook the more it seems to be similar to Split Enz’ “I Got You”. The lone tune that seems a tad out of place is the lean pop rocker “Green, Yellow And Red” as she sounds like she’s fronting a quality barroom band and little else. But she redeems herself with the tender “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone” with her voice and piano doing the brunt of the work brilliantly. It’s one of her better efforts in a career of great ones.
From there, Cash returned with another album entitled Interiors, that only improves on previous albums as songs seem better refined and slightly more polished. “On The Inside” is a good example of this as she mixes a bit of roots with a bit of pop to create a nice, ear-candy, radio-friendly balance. The album’s overall tone has a lot in common with her Rules Of Travel release a couple of years back; reflective, thoughtful and introspective judging by keepers such as the rather hypnotic and enticing “Dance With The Tiger” as well as the somewhat airy “On The Surface” with Rodney Crowell on harmonies.
Again though, Cash is able to find a melody out of basically anything as she does on the catchy “Real Woman” that is still pop but a lazy, ambling kind of pop with a fine kick. “What We Really Want” is another well-crafted acoustic pop track that could be closely compared to the likes of a tame Melissa Etheridge or Bonnie Raitt. The album seems to mirror what was happening around her at the time—her marriage to Rodney Crowell was heading downhill—especially on the string-tinted highlight “Land Of Nightmares” with the line “I smile but I’m not even there”.
And last, but certainly not least, Cash has rounded off this recent splurge of re-releases with a new, very best of compilation. Although consisting of half of the material found on the three re-releases, there are some other shining moments lead by “The Wheel” that has Cash giving a vocal that she would have a hard time one-upping. She also manages to make the most of “Hold On” and a duet with Bobby Bare on “No Memories Hangin’ Around”. How anyone can resist putting “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” on repeat is beyond me.
But maybe the crowning jewel in all these albums is her duet with her late father on “September When It Comes”. The song seems extremely prophetic now that Johnny Cash passed away in September 2003. Fortunately, she is carrying on the family name extremely well!