Rosanne Cash with Bruce Springsteen – “Sea of Heartbreak”
When Rosanne Cash turned eighteen, her father gave her a list of what he considered the 100 essential country songs. By way of an eleventh studio album, she recorded a dozen of them with a loose, jazzy backing band and an array of guests including Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen.
Without that backstory, The List might seem like just another covers album, like Tanya Tucker’s My Turn, or, worse, a standards album in the vein of those Rod Stewart abominations. But there’s obviously a story behind it, and a personal connection with each of these songs, which makes her engagement with the Songbook more akin to Johnny’s American Recordings series in its scope and sound.
It’s surprising to realize that Johnny never record with Bruce Springsteen, even though they both covered each other’s songs over the years. Rosanne corrects that omission with a lovely version of “Sea of Heartbreak,” which was a hit for Don Gibson in 1961. Johnny covered it on his 1996 album Unchained, but Rosanne’s tender, understated version might even outdo her father’s.
“Sea of Heartbreak” shouldn’t lend itself so well to a duet. After all, this is a song about extreme loneliness and hurt as romantic fall-out, sung from the perspective of someone adrift and emotionally far form shore, and its lovely melody draws out its questioning syllable longingly.
But together, Rosanne and Springsteen gently reinterpret “Sea of Heartbreak” as an anthem for two lost souls who don’t know how close they are. They’re not exes here, but potentially lovers. Her voice is gently wounded but thoughtful, investing the lyrics with care and nuance as if embracing her lonesomeness provides some form of comfort.
Bruce does his best Roy Orbison here, which suits the mood both musically and allusively and lends the song a gruff majesty whether he’s backing Rosanne on the verses or singing lead on the short bridge. They make a great pair with electric chemistry, so why couldn’t they just make a full album of duets together?
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