Last year when I was sitting at the Minnesota Zoo waiting for Lucinda Williams' show to begin, the guy sitting next to me first tried to get me to take some chickens off his hands. Seems as if he and his wife had got the chickens thinking they'd like to have fresh eggs every morning only to discover that they had come home with all roosters- not only nixing the egg idea, but ensuring quite the racket come sunrise.
After I declined his offer of chickens we talked about recent shows that we had been to. His favorite was Rosanne Cash's show at the Zoo just a few weeks before. I knew she had played at the Zoo but I really didn't have any interest in seeing her even though a few years ago I would have paid top dollars to get a good seat.
I think my waning interest in Rosanne began shortly after the Iraq war began and I read the anti-war message she left on her web site. It wasn't that I disagreed with the sentiment. It was just the writing was so simplistic and hippie like that I lost some respect for one whose music to me was always full of so much depth. I didn't make a conscious decision to stop listening to Rosanne's music but still when I was busy filling my iPod with my CDs, only 1990's Interiors made the cut even though there were others that were surely better than so many I was uploading from other artists.
I had forgotten how much over the years I had loved Rosanne Cash's music. Songs like "Seven Year Ache" and "The Way We Make a Broken Heart" are sung with a combination of precision and passion that the first time I heard them they stopped me in my tracks. Her version of "Tennessee Flat Top Box" is head and shoulders above her father's version of the same song. Interiors is the best divorce CD I've heard this side of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Interiors would make my short list of desert island picks- the songs are full of such harrowing heartache and honesty that it almost makes me feel like I've gone through a divorce even though I've never been married.
Her absence on my iPod didn't even occur to me until I was sitting watching Walk the Line where the Rosanne character in the movie sole role is that of a crying child- crying when her daddy isn't at home, crying when her daddy and mommy are arguing, crying for God knows what reason at the dinner table. I quite enjoyed the film but I left wondering what in the world the real Rosanne Cash must have thought about this on screen portrayal.
Thankfully she both answers and ignores that obvious question with her new CD Black Cadillac. The CD is a full of sadness and intensity and insight over what it is like to suffer the loss of loved ones. Within a two year period Rosanne lost her father, mother, and step-mother. The poetry of the music from Black Cadillac is astounding in its ability to capture the resiliency of the human spirit. The singer isn't a survivor by choice, the title track's lyrics lamenting being left behind in hell on this earth leave no doubt about that, but when one suffers through a devastation like the loss of a parent, it the only choice that one must continue on in a world forever a little bit bleaker. In other words loss can make you stronger if only because you no longer have the nurturing spirit that was the important guide that nursed you through other losses since the crying days of your childhood.
My favorite song on the CD is "Burn Down this Town" a bluesy stomp that begs to rock out but never quite does. The tension created by being somewhat muted is the perfect example of how so much of Black Cadillac delivers the goods on such difficult material. "The sky is falling with the ash and blood/You've got to make a promise blood to blood/So shut the door and slowly turn around/And you know you can't make a sound/Burn down this town" the singer sings accompanied by a driving, soulful, swirling musical backdrop. The song then segues into "God is in the Roses" a bittersweet lament that reminds us that God may be responsible for all things beautiful (like rose petals) but God is also responsible for the thorns as well.
Johnny Cash has rightfully secured his place in the history of American music so that when a student is studying that history 100 years from now songs like "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" will rightfully likely get a listen. Rosanne's contributions will probably warrant a footnote but hopefully that same student will dig a little bit deeper and listen to some of her songs as well. Her best work is timeless and constantly rewarding.