The One That Almost Got Away: Rosanne Cash's "The List"


My reaction after listening to Rosanne Cash's 2009 album, "The List", was one of some alarm, as in "this one almost slipped past me".  A friend recommended this album to me last week and I was immediately attracted to the concept.  Rosanne sings covers on this album, but before you rush to judgment about her being too lazy to write her own songs, be assured that she put out 11 albums of her own work before this one.

Rosanne, of course, is the oldest daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife, who you know as the long suffering Vivian if you watched one of my favorite movies, "Walk the Line".  Way back in 1973 when Rosanne was just 18, Johnny made for her a list entitled "100 Essential Country Songs", intended to be her musical "education".  Some were his songs and some were not.

A few years ago, having sufficiently established herself independent of her famous father and stepmother (June, with whom Rosanne was also close), she decided to cover some of those worthy songs.  Rosanne's producer husband was primarily responsible for choosing which 12 songs from The List would make the album.  If you're adept at mental math, that leaves 88 songs of the original 100, so if we're lucky we might get a future album entitled something along the lines of "The Second List".

Rosanne (it feels like her name is spelled wrong, but I checked and it's right) enlisted help from some very famous musicians for a few of the tracks on this album: Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright and Neko Case.  Those songs are less duets, however, than Rosanne getting some background support- they are primarily her songs.

You'll likely recognize some of the songs here, although Rosanne has definitely done them her way.  The result is truly memorable and moving.  Older southern music does not tend to be overly upbeat or quick-tempo, and Rosanne does not try to hurry them along or even make them sound contemporary necessarily.  And really, what can one do to make "The Long Black Veil" sound happy?  Right, it's not meant to sound that way.  Speaking of that song, I just checked my iPod and Rosanne's version is the third I have, the other two being by Johnny himself and Dave Matthews.  To me, it's testament to the quality of the song itself, similar to the others on the album.  Johnny chose wisely, and Rosanne has done them justice.

I hesitate to recommend any songs in particular because the entire album is worth buying.  However, my personal favorites are "Sea of Heartbreak", featuring Bruce Springsteen (beautiful), "500 Miles" and "She's Got You."  My goodness, each one is sadder than the last.  On that note, enjoy "Motherless Children" as performed by Rosanne on "Craig Ferguson" a few months back.


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