Rosanne Cash with Bruce Springsteen – “Sea of Heartbreak”

Stephen Deusner | September 22nd, 2009

rosanne-cash-sea-of-heartbreakWhen 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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  1. Jon
    September 22, 2009 at 10:28 am

    It’s funny the way that the value of a backstory waxes and wanes around here. Springsteen sounds out of his zone to me, and I’m not sold on the revised chords, but Cash sounds, as always, great.

  2. Jim Malec
    September 22, 2009 at 10:31 am

    It’s funny how we grant a writer the freedom to use whatever criteria he or she so desires when evaluating a song, so long as he or she is being intellectually honest. Although, maybe I should take a more hard-lined approach and devise a scale by which writers would all use the same methods when evaluating music. I’m sure that would create some truly unique and interesting content for our readers.

  3. Kelly
    September 22, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I have no clue as to what Jon is talking about but Stephen nailed this one. The backstory does add to the overall feeling of this album, without question…

  4. Jon
    September 22, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Gratuitous defensiveness is kind of funny, too. Or maybe I’m just easily amused this morning.

  5. Jeff
    September 22, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I love Bruce’s croon, but not as much as I love Petty’s always-underrated background vocals on her dad’s version. Who backs a Cash family member better?

  6. Jim Malec
    September 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

    And unrelenting nit-picking is even more hilarious! The hilarity is just bursting off these pages this morning!

  7. JD
    September 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Nice cut despite the boss….. revised chords and all.

  8. stormy
    September 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Jon: The difference is that this backstory doesn’t come with a side order of “if you don’t like this track than the wandering pack of rabid, al-queida supporting ducks ripped the singer’s 7 year old sister to death with cancer and frowny faces win” guilt.

  9. Jon
    September 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    That doesn’t make any difference either. Letting the behavior of over-the-top fans influence your estimation of a song’s worth to you is mighty superficial.

  10. Jim Malec
    September 22, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    From this point on, we are going to delete any comments that do not relate in some way to this song. Please keep the personal arguing to a minimum, and if you must reference the Carrie Underwood review (and ensuing comments) do so in the appropriate place.

  11. Paul W Dennis
    September 22, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Great song – I really don’t much care for Springsteen’s vocals but they seem to work on this track. This has moved into 2nd place as my favorite version of this song (behind Kenny Price’s version)

  12. Leeann Ward
    September 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Bruce does sound different here (I made the same Orbison comparison at CU), but I think it works quite well. Great version overall.

  13. Steve M.
    September 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Like her father, I think Rosanne Cash has the ability to take a cover and make the song her own. I actually like the Bruce Springsteen vocals. But I also love his “Seger Secessions” so I may be biased.

  14. Leeann Ward
    September 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Ditto on The Seeger Sessions, Steve M.

  15. Rick
    September 22, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I’m a Don Gibson fan so I tend to be a bit skeptical about covers of his classic songs (except by artists like Ray Charles), but this one is darn good. I’ve never been a big Springsteen fan but at least ole Brucey doesn’t botch this one up. Definitely a thumbs up for starting with a great song and doing a very interesting vocal interpretation. Rosanne’s album is going to be a winner and hopefully The 9513 will get hold of some copies to give away!

  16. Bobby
    September 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    This is a wonderful song! When was this song recorded? We love Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, Bruce and Rosanne. Don Gibson was from here, Shelby North Carolina. This is a wonderful tribute to Don and to Roy.

  17. Donald R.
    October 27, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I think the song would have been much better without Bruce. Rosanne did it perfectly.

  18. ko
    April 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    so gentle and tender… this is my favourite version of this beautiful song.

  19. Emmanuel Muhumuza
    June 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Its a very good work of art i don’t know how much time it took u to compose the song but i can assure you that time was not lost n its worth it.

  20. Brandon
    October 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Does anyone what the guitar chords in this song are? Sounds like a capo somewhere also, but I can’t tell where it is or what key this is. Please help if you can. Their jazziness throws me off I guess. Strange chords I don’t know maybe……maybe not. Any help appreciated.

    Brandon

  21. Kyle
    October 3, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    From what I can hear…

    Intro is 1 – 6m/4
    Verse is 1 – 6m – 4 – 1-5, 1 – 6m – 4 – 5
    Chorus is – 1- 5 – 1maj7 – 4 – 6m – 5-4

    Then resolve to the intro. It’s in the key of B.

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