Review: Rosanne Cash – The Essential Rosanne Cash (Columbia Legacy, 2011)
Rosanne Cash – The Essential Rosanne Cash (Columbia Legacy, 2011)
For an artist of her stature, Rosanne Cash has been the subject of surprisingly thin compilation releases. Several 10- and 12-track single disc collections have been issued, but only Raven’s imported 21-track Blue Moons and Broken Hearts and to a lesser extent Legacy’s earlier Very Best Of really dug beyond the hits. That list is now expanded with this two-disc, thirty-six track collection, featuring a song list picked and programmed by the artist herself. The set opens with “Can I Still Believe in You,” from her 1978 self-titled Germany-only debut, and closes over thirty years later with a trio of tracks drawn from 2009’s The List. The latter selections include a cover of Mickey Newbury’s “Sweet Memories” previously available only on the Borders Books version of The List.
Included are all eleven of Cash’s country chart-toppers, seventeen of her twenty country chart entries, and tracks drawn from all twelve studio albums she’s recorded for Ariola, Columbia and Capitol/EMI. There are augumented with bonuses drawn from earlier antholgies, and duets from albums by Vince Gill (“If It Weren’t For Him”) and Rodney Crowell (“Its Such a Small World”). The bulk of the collection is devoted to Cash’s tenure with Columbia, with the second half of disc two stepping through her more recent work for Capitol/EMI. These latter tracks find Cash reinventing herself from a country hit maker to a writer, album auteur and Grammy nominee. This plays out as a worthy soundtrack for Cash’s recent memoir, Composed, provides a terrific overview of her hits and a useful guide to the rich album tracks in her catalog.
Though Cash isn’t prone to complimenting her debut, the strength of her songwriter’s voice is evident from the start. It may be difficult at mid-life to fully reconnect with the yet-to-be-fulfilled longing one felt at twenty-three, but the early songs provide telling snapshots of a young writer who was already able to express her soul in words. A year later, on 1979’s Right or Wrong, Cash sounds more confident, singing as an equal with Bobby Bare on “No Memories Hangin’ Round,” and producer Rodney Crowell deftly blended roots with radio-friendly touches. Her follow-up, Seven Year Ache, broke her career wide open with an album and title track that each topped the country chart; the single also crossed over, stopping just shy of the pop top twenty.
Cash’s songs and vocals, and Crowell’s production fit easily across a variety of styles, including pop ballads, twangy roots, countrypolitan jazz, and horn-lined soul. Several of the hits, particularly those in the mid-80s, tended to crystalline guitars, big piano and booming drums, but Cash also topped the chart with the locomotive rhythm of “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” the Brill Building soul of John Hiatt’s “The Way We Make a Broken Heart,” and most endearingly, an acoustic shuffle of “Tennessee Flat Top Box” that recalled her dad’s early days at Sun.
Cash’s introductory notes provide a peek inside the discoveries that occur when an artist anthologizes her own catalog – thinking back to the places and people that influenced one’s work, and wondering who they were when a particular song was written or performed. It’s hard to tell if the songs provide mileage markers for her life, or her life provides the events that demarcate the phases of her career; a bit of each, it seems. The set’s affectionate and perceptive liner notes are written by Rodney Crowell, to whom Cash was married and who produced her first five albums. The booklet adds detailed session notes, including chart information and personnel, and fleshes out this terrific overview of a second-generation country legend.