Rosanne Cash re­vis­its clas­sic coun­try songs for new al­bum

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - Entertainment - Doug Gal­lant

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

File photo

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.

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