Rosanne Cash In Her Creative Prime

Photo by Deborah Feingold
Photo by Deborah Feingoldann

Through an amazing three decades of making music, Rosanne Cash stands as a true original. After 14 albums, 11 number one singles and a Grammy Award, the eldest daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash and Vivian Liberto has carved herself a rather impressive career in music.

It is not only music where Cash has made her mark, however.

Cash received an honorary doctorate from the Memphis College of Art while also showing her strengths as a prolific writer. She has authored “Bodies of Water” (1996) and “Composed” (2010) while having her prose and essays appearing in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone and Newsweek to name but a handful.

Her music is arguably what she is best known for however. Cash’s commercial breakthrough was 1981’s Seven Year Ache, a record that gave the songwriter three number one singles. The unique, personal perspective that Cash brought to all of her songs was magnified in unprecedented ways on her 2006 record Black Cadillacunquestionably one of the most personal of her career. The album serves as a musical document of mourning, written between spring 2003 and spring 2005. It was during this time that Cash suffered the immeasurable loss of her father and mother as well as her step-mother, June Carter-Cash.

After having performed a sold-out show in Halifax in 2011, Rosanne Cash returns to the Maritimes with shows in Halifax, Fredericton as well as right here in Metro Moncton.

The show will feature Cash performing with her longtime life partner and musical collaborator, John Leventhal. She tells The Times & Transcript that the duo format of the show is ideal for a couple of different reasons.

“I love this show format because it really puts us out there,” Rosanne says. “It is a very musical show, obviously but it also gives John and I the opportunity to experiment a little more. In a grander sense, it’s a bit of a romantic thing to be on stage with John. We love it.”

Rosanne says that despite knowing that she wanted to be a writer early in life, she wasn’t completely sure that music was going to serve as the outlet to expose her writing. Of course, the fact that her father was Johnny Cash also played a part.

“I wanted to be a writer; I always enjoyed prose. I began writing songs which in turn led me to begin recording and performing.

“I think that stepping out from my father’s shadow was also daunting in those early days as well however. I think that is the story for any child who goes into the same field as their parent when their parent has been successful. It’s the same if your father is a neurosurgeon and you decide to go into that field as well. It can be a hard road but ultimately, there is a great pay off in the end.”

With a new album currently in the works, Rosanne’s latest record is 2009’s The List, inspired by her famous father. As the story goes, when Rosanne was around 18 years of age, her father reportedly alarmed at her limited knowledge of music. While she was reportedly well acquainted with the songs on the radio at the time, her father drew up a list of 100 songs that he considered to be essential American songs.

Included in “the list” was Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”, Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” along with 97 other songs. Rosanne picked 12 of the 100 tracks and set about making The List.

Although the tone of the album is considerably more upbeat than Black Cadillac, Rosanne doesn’t go so far to call the record a celebration.

“For me, making The List felt like a reconnection that really touched upon the depths of the past.”

The record was a critical and commercial success for Rosanne however she cautions fans not to expect successive editions of The List anytime soon.

“I don’t foresee making successive records like it down the road. I will most likely make a second part at some point but I will not be covering all 100 songs,” she says. “It was a great thing to do. It was successful and I really loved it but I just really wanted to get back to songwriting.”

Rosanne says that she and Levanthal are currently working on an album due for release in January 2014. She says the album, titled The River and The Thread, is a record based upon Southern people and places. In much the same way that wine reportedly ages well, she says that she feels as though the songs that comprise the collection are among the best that she has ever written.

“I am so excited about the songs on this project; I do feel as though they are the best that I have written. I am getting better with songwriting as I age, which is how it should be. I think your 50’s are when you achieve a specific level of what you have worked at for your whole life.

“It has taken a long time to figure out a graceful way to balance mine and John’s relationship because the personal stuff can get mixed into the professional side. We’re fortunate that we have figured out a graceful way to do it. Personal stuff can sometimes get mixed into the professional side of things but we’ve been at it long enough to be able to get past all of that. It’s a great relationship that we have.”

Article published in the July 4, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript