Album Review: Rosanne Cash – The List
Despite the endlessly repeated backstory, Rosanne Cash’s new album has little to do with her father and his influence on her tastes and career, at least not beyond suggesting the tracklist. Rather, The List plays like a tribute to the durability of country songwriting and its impact over the decades. Despite the genre’s lowly reputation throughout most of the twentieth century, she argues, songs such as Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak,” Harlan Howard’s “I’m Movin’ On” and Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” can–and still do–speak to anyone’s pains and troubles, spanning geography and class.
Reinforcing this argument is Cash’s decision to move these songs from the country to the city, favoring a smoky, jazzy setting that nods to Owen Bradley and Norah Jones alike. On “Miss the Mississippi and You,” the curlicue guitar licks and buoyant brushed-snare pattern lend the song an easygoing river current that pushes her spry, precise vocals along steadily. “Long Black Veil” and Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” both get fluttery acoustic arrangements that emphasize their delicate melodies and forlorn sentiments.
Generally these austere arrangements work well, but her low-down, slowed-down “I’m Movin’ On” can’t even get the engine to turn over, much less peal out on the highway. Likewise, another song about travel–Haggard’s “Silver Wings”–lacks the forlorn finality of a good-bye, despite elegant backing vocals from Rufus Wainwright (Marianne Faithfull does better by Hag covering “Sing Me Back Home” on her own covers album, Easy Come Easy Go).
Like her father and like so many of the artists she covers on The List, Cash does not fit easily or very naturally into the parameters of country music, so this foray into new sounds and styles is neither a surprise or much of a stretch. With its subdued twang and exacting enunciation, her voice has too much polish to steal “She’s Got You” from Patsy Cline (and what artist, living or dead, could possibly do that?), but those same qualities illuminate The Carter Family’s “Motherless Children” and “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” and lend them a palpable sense of loss.
As the album title implies, Cash is engaging with these songs as a collection rather than as individual compositions, so it’s hard not to hear The List as part of the recent deluge of covers albums, including Tanya Tucker’s overrated My Turn and Patty Loveless’ rated-just-right Mountain Soul project—or, God help us all, Rod Stewart’s hoary series of standards cash grabs. But perhaps the most interesting comparison, in concept if not necessarily in quality, is with Willie Nelson’s ground-breaking Stardust, which proved that country was big enough to welcome the urbane fare of Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin. The List recalculates that Vin diagram and, despite its shortcomings, strongly suggests that these songs are rich enough and malleable enough to be considered part of the Great American Songbook.
Not that we needed persuading.
- luckyoldsun: Michael, From the way it's being promoted, with Yearwood announcing a new label and a new album and with The Tennessean …
- Linda Salmons: Whoaa!!!! Makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Beautiful tone and nuance - unmistakably Auldridge.
- Michael A.: Billboard also posted a pretty good piece on the new Trisha Yearwood album yesterday. Unfortunately, it sounds like only …
- Kathy Gaddis: Very very nice!
- bob: Good day with news of PrizeFighter Trisha and Drunken Martina.
- John Fuller: Oh yeah!! Crispy sweet!
- Rick Mifflin: Sublime
- Leeann: Very nice!
- luckyoldsun: Paul, Good info. It's pretty disgraceful that Billboard editors can't even get musical history remotely right regarding even their own publication. The …
- Juli Thanki: Yep, I'll be there. Looking forward to it!