The late, great Johnny Cash sang a somber duet on his daughter Rosanne’s previous album, Rules of Travel, and he continues to haunt her songs, only now in the magnetic echoes of old family tape recordings. Black Cadillac starts with Father Cash sternly telling his young daughter to “come on”, and the resulting song cycle is grounded in the cold reality of dealing with loss and sadness. But Daughter Cash is an expert detailer who doesn’t pander to navel gazing, and was somehow able to produce a detached, yet emotional response to her grief.
Rosanne lost not only her father, but also her mother, Vivian Cash Distin, and her step-mom, June Carter Cash, in just over one year’s time. Since Rosanne does not share her father’s famous piousness, she must come to terms with earthly realizations and lofty speculations, although a higher power is referenced throughout the album.
A hazy “Riders on the Storm” intro opens it up as if to punctuate the confusion of watching a family member get taken away in a cemetery limousine, but Cash mostly focuses on past memories and hope in each song. In the delicate piano jazz of “The World Unseen”, she wisely reminds herself that her own skin is a living reminder of what she has lost. “I will look for you in morphine and in dreams”, she sings. “I will look for you in the rhythm of my bloodstream”. Acoustic guitar and jangly banjo also frame “God Is in the Roses”, which celebrates the beauty of the world even as it casts a cautious eye toward the thorns of living.
In her most personal moment, “I Was Watching You”, Cash recalls “the longest day” of her life, when her father passed in September 2003, less than four months after his wife June Carter Cash died. The autobiographical song begins before Rosanne’s own birth by softly recounting her parents’ trip along a Texas road, listening to Hank Williams on the radio as they prepare to start their new life together.
These acoustic-filled remembrances are surrounded by a band that rocks when the time is right. The ethereal “Like a Wave”, with its Daniel Lanois-style production and thick guitar lines that ebb and flow to create a seductive lullaby for the acceptance of a new world, has her admitting, “My memory is filling with smoke / Such a relief not to know / And except for the body and soul / There’s nothing here I want to own”. Just before that, her band (featuring husband/producer John Leventhal on guitar) unleashes stomping fury on “Dreams Are Not My Home”, an electric guitar rocker that harks back to another album dealing solely with mortality, Patti Smith’s Gone Again.
In spite of an abundance of grief, joy is found in the feisty New Orleans funeral march “World Without Sound”, in which Rosanne fantasizes about other realities, from living in Paris to being born “free as a bird” as John Lennon. Her singing is lifted amid a choir and marching army of Crescent City horns, though the song was recorded in Los Angeles prior to last year’s devastating hurricane. It’s an uplifting departure for a songwriter who has dabbled in everything from rockabilly to new wave over a 20-year career, and who doesn’t usually present herself in such an unbridled way. The cycle closes with “Good Intent”, a folk song with soft guitar and spare organ that begins with young Johnny Cash telling his little girl “bye, bye, bye…” — words become equal parts loneliness and freedom.