Written by Fantasma el Rey
Rosanne Cash, daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash and a great songwriter herself, is back with her twelfth studio album. It is a treasure of twelve of country music’s most essential recordings given Rosanne’s special touch with her wonderful vocals. The idea for the album came to her while touring for her last album, 2006’s Black Cadillac. Rosanne remembered a key lesson her father taught her about her country roots and thus through Johnny’s wisdom shines The List.
Black Cadillac was Rosanne’s way of expressing the loss she felt over her father, mother Vivian, and stepmother June Carter Cash in the album’s reflective tunes. In concert she told the audience about a time when she was 18 and her father realized her knowledge of country standards was limited. A few hours later Johnny came back with a list of what he titled “100 Essential Country Songs.” Rosanne recalls the list covering a wide range of songs in the country spectrum (including some of his own) from early folk and blues to the more modern sounds of Hank Williams Sr. and rockabilly, right up to what at the time, 1973, was current. She learned them all and came to embrace those songs as a “standard of excellence.” It was a reminder of who she was and where she came from.
In past covers Rosanne has done, including the Beatles’ “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” she has always managed to make them her own and nothing has changed here. I have always been swept up in her beauty and her voice; she is the female voice of country I remember most from my youth. Her version of Johnny’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” would have me smiling and singing along, and my mother would always call me to the television whenever the video came on. Rosanne was probably my first crush. I thought she was the prettiest girl (I loved her black hair and style of dress) with the most beautiful voice; I was smitten, and still am.
From the start, Rosanne’s voice takes center stage with the slow, country waltz of Jimmie Rogers’ classic “Miss The Mississippi And You.” Something in her smooth delivery, timing, and overall soothing voice captures me in a trance, as if I were a child again lost in her voice, and the story she tells is of simply missing someone and someplace. A sad story I can understand.
“Motherless Children” picks up the pace, and we get snapping, solid drum beats by Shawn Pelton, great string picking by John Leventhal (producer and Rosanne’s husband) on guitar, bass, and mandolin while Larry Campbell strokes the fiddle. Rosanne puts more in her vocals here too, digging deeper, getting more soulful and powerful as the band stays steady behind her.
“Sea Of Heartbreak,” which her father covered on his acclaimed Unchained album on American records, finds the first of Rosanne’s friends turning up to help her out. We get The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, providing his ragged vocals that actually fit well with Rosanne’s, making this well-done little remake a classic itself. I love the fact that she went slow with the tune as opposed to Johnny’s jumpy, high-energy version. Perfect.
Other guests include Elvis Costello on the Harlan Howard tune “Heartaches By The Number,” Rufus Wainwright on Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on “Long Black Veil,” another tune done by Johnny at one time. These sad songs of loss never lack feeling and are done well as the men trade vocals and harmonize with Rosanne wonderfully.
Two songs I looked forward to most were the Hank Cochran/Patsy Cline song “She’s Got You” and a song her father and Bob Dylan did together, one of my all-time favorites “Girl From The North Country.” Rosanne carries both well and makes them new by putting her loving touch on them. On “Girl From The North Country” as well as “Long Black Veil” she doesn’t change the lyrics to reflect a women’s point of view. A bit odd, but she pulls it off as you can picture her singing these songs to herself somewhere like any other women who loves these songs would have done.
Rounding out the album are “500 Miles,” “Take These Chains From My Heart” (Hank Williams), “I’m Moving On” (Hank Snow) and “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow” (The Carter Family). Rosanne works her magic on all wonderfully, leaving her heart and soul on the recordings she has adored since her youth.
The List is an album her fans will love and have waited for while fans of real country music can appreciate it for the love and care that Rosanne Cash has put into reworking these fine country staples, blending perfectly the traditional with the modern through her band and beautiful voice.