Here are the top ten things I learned from attending Rosanne Cash’s CD release party in NYC last night and then listening to the new CD:
10. The major labels may be hurting for cash, but not for Rosanne Cash. For her, only real, velvety-crimson roses will do.
9. For sheer songwriting excellence, I’m still partial to 1996’s 10 Song Demo, but as an integral work, the new CD is Cash’s best to date. Dense with emotion, it’s about mortality and loss, but not morbid, and mercifully free of facile invocations of faith. (God may be “in the roses/the petals and the thorns” but “It’s a strange new world we live in/Where the church leads you to hell.”)
8. Despite the heavy doses of contemplation and brooding in the new songs, Cash still rocks. Witness the taut title track, the smooth, chocolately rockabilly of “Radio Operator,” and the angst-ridden “Dreams Are Not My Home.”
7. For the musicians out there: Cash’s flair for minor keys is as forceful as ever; so is her trick of ending a phrase with the dramatic two-chord instead of the more usual five-chord.
6. Cash’s honeyed, heartbreaking alto can loosen up even a room full of jaded music-industry insiders. On stage she’s magnetic and glowing.
5. One can’t help but admire the grace and humility with which she accepts and uses both the talent she inherited and the long shadow that comes with it.
4. Even in the hyper-selfconscious 21st century, a “concept album” can be a good idea. Black Cadillac is perhaps more accurately described as a theme album. The songs stand alone but all are auto- or superautobiographical, dealing with present feeling and with history of past generations both known and only known of. The beautiful “House On The Lake” is a crystal-clear paean to simpler times, perhaps of childhood; “Radio Operator” evokes Johnny Cash’s life during wartime; and “Good Intent” concerns the arrival in America of the singer’s ancestors centuries ago.
3. Trying to separate the work from the life is, in this case, futile and unnecessary. These songs speak to the deep and conflicting feelings about family and loss that are part of the universal human condition. Knowing they’re inspired by people whose lives belonged more to the world than to their own families makes them, if anything, more touching and powerful.
2. I like gin.
1. And the number one thing I learned from Rosanne Cash’s CD release party: Even a musical royal gets nervous when her voice coach is in the audience.