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Music Review: Rosanne Cash – The List

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Finally, at the age of 54, Rosanne Cash has become a cover girl.

The eldest daughter of the late Johnny Cash, Rosanne is releasing her twelfth studio album, The List, on October 6 (Manhattan Records). However, it’s the first time she has devoted an entire album to covering other artist's songs on an entire album, while taking guidance from her father.

In 1973, the Man in Black decided to educate his teenage daughter about music, giving her a list of what he considered 100 “essential” country songs. The Southern California girl who back then had a penchant for pop now says they should be considered classic American songs. “This list is not only a personal legacy, but I have come to realize it is also a cultural legacy, as important to who we are as Americans as the Civil War, or the Rocky Mountains,” she wrote on her website’s blog.

Turning into a prolific songwriter and Grammy-winning performer who has been in the business for more than 30 years, Cash figured the timing was right to pass along this lesson in American history.

After losing her stepmother, June Carter Cash, as well as her father within months of each other in 2003, her mother, Vivian Liberto, died in 2005. Rosanne then experienced a health scare that necessitated brain surgery in November of 2007, delaying her music career while giving her a chance to reflect on her family's legacy.

Now, thankfully, she is back, and the result is a satisfying, if not totally riveting, record of country comfort. Cash’s cozy vocals and the production/instrumental work of her husband, John Leventhal, provide just the right touch on this all-too-brief collection, which is being marketed as a “contemporary interpretation,” perhaps to reach out beyond the hardcore country masses.

Some songs were written by country legends such as Hank Williams (“Take These Chains From My Heart,” the last song he ever recorded, incidentally), Hank Snow (“I’m Movin’ On”) and Merle Haggard (“Silver Wings”) while others were turned into Nashville gold by classic artists such as Patsy Cline (“She’s Got You”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Miss The Mississippi and You”) and Don Gibson (“Sea of Heartbreak”).

Leventhal is a gifted guitarist and excels throughout, also playing drums, organ, piano and anything else with strings. Combined with Rosanne’s sultry alto, this makes for easy listening in the best possible sense. After hearing her slow-but-lovely takes on “I’m Movin’ On” (sounding like the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins) and “Take These Chains From My Heart," it’s easy to envision listening to them in front of a crackling fire while watching the first snowflakes of the season fall.

Rosanne does manage to break loose a time or two, though. She teams up with do-it-all duet-meister Elvis Costello on the album’s jauntiest tune, Harland Howard’s “Heartaches By The Number,” which has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Waylon Jennings.

Other formidable artists such as Bruce Springsteen (“Sea of Heartbreak”), Rufus Wainwright (“Silver Wings”) and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (“Long Black Veil”) also appear but only in limited roles as some of the most illustrious backup singers ever to perform on one album.

Unfortunately, Bob Dylan, who recorded his “Girl from the North Country” as a duet with Rosanne’s father back in 1969, isn’t among them.

Nor are there any of the several Country Music Hall of Famers still making music today. Again, the intention may have been to appeal to a broader audience, but consider the hidden gems that might have been uncovered by digging deeper into those royal roots.

Now there are eighty eight more songs remaining on the list (eighty six if you count the Neko Case assisted cover of Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind” on an iTunes bonus selection and "Sweet Memories," which features Chris Thile and is only on CDs sold at Barnes & Noble). This is the time to Cash in on a perfect opportunity.

In fact, Rosanne could make this a yearly tradition. She’s passing on the legacy (and the list) to her children, including Chelsea Crowell, Rosanne’s 27-year-old daughter who's preparing to release her debut album. Chelsea, whose father is straight-talkin’ hard-rockin’ country artist Rodney Crowell (Rosanne’s first husband), is already lending a hand here, providing harmony on “500 Miles.”

Rosanne is also bringing her past into the present on another website dedicated to showing photos and other memorabilia from her family’s rich history at thelist.tumblr.com/. (About an early picture taken with her sister Kathy, Rosanne, shown at left, says, “My mother passed on to us our love of a good handbag. Unfortunately, she did not pass on to me the ability to sit like a lady.”)

Rosanne offers other humorous, and often insightful, comments throughout the site, which is a virtual open scrapbook. She also invites anyone with a story to tell about a family heirloom or parts of their past to pass them along. Maybe they could even add to Johnny’s essential “A” list.

As long as the suggestions from Rosanne’s fans aren’t listless, Cash has a chance to cover all the bases.

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