Rosanne Cash revisits classic country songs for new album
When Rosanne Cash was 18 years old, her father gave her a list of 100 essential country songs and told her she should learn all of them.
Johnny Cash believed his daughter had become obsessed with pop music and rock and lacked a deep understanding of the country music that was so near and dear to his heart.
He believed that learning the songs on that list would help to educate his daughter about that music. He was right. The music on her father’s list, which embraced everything from the folk ballads of Appalachia and the songs of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie to gospel music, Southern blues, rockabilly, western swing and what passed for modern country in the early 1970s, have served as a source of inspiration for her throughout her career,
“I looked to that list as a stan- dard of excellence, and to remind myself of the tradition from which I come,” Cash said recently.
Contemplating her return to the studio as she recovered from surgery for a benign brain condition, Cash decided to revisit the list her father had given her all those years ago and record her first-ever album of cover songs.
That album, simply titled The List, has just hit the racks.
And simply put, this is an extraordinarily fine piece of work, one I believe the Man in Black would have been justifiably proud of.
Produced and arranged by Cash’s husband, John Leventhal, who also played guitar, mandolin, piano and organ on the album, this set features an even dozen songs popularized by country music legends like Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and The Carter Family.
While she has chosen to record their songs, Cash opted to put her own spin on them with new arrangements, arrangements that more reflect the musical path she has chosen to follow.
Sometimes it’s something as simple as changing the tempo, as she did with Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On.
In other instances, the song undergoes a more dramatic transformation.
A prime example of the latter is the Don Gibson hit Sea of Heartbreak — which her father also recorded — which has been given a more contemporary treatment, emerging as somewhat more wistful, more pensive than the original.
While these arrangements may differ from the original arrangements, the original spirit of the songs generally remains intact.
That, I believe, had a lot to do with the importance she attaches to these songs. They were important, not just because they came from her father but because they are timeless songs from the great American songbook, save for Hank Snow’s I’m Movin' On which came from the great Canadian songbook.
She put a lot of thought and a lot of heart into this record and for her efforts was rewarded with what well may be one of the finest records of her career.
I can pull up descriptives and superlatives all day to describe this record, but the best description, I believe, comes from Cash herself.
“ This album enables me to validate the connection to my heritage rather than run away from it and to tie all the threads together: past and future, legacy and youth, tradition and timelessness.”
It should be noted that Cash and Leventhal were aided and abetted by some very special guests in making this record.
Bruce Springsteen duets with Cash on the aforementioned Sea of Heartbreak. Elvis Costello joined her for a fine version of the Ray Price classic Heartaches By The Number. Rufus Wainwright can be heard on her version of Merle Haggard’s Silver Wings, while Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy stepped in for Lefty Frizzell’s Long Black Veil.
Some records take time to grow on you.
Some you connect with instantly.
The List had me from the very listen.
Choice offerings here include Sea of Heartbreak, I’m Movin’ On, 500 Miles, Take These Chains From My Heart, Heartaches By The Number and her cover of Bob Dylan’s Girl From The North Country.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash has revisited a list of essential country songs her father gave her and chosen a dozen favourites for her new record The List.