After the dark and chilling themes of 2006's Black Cadillac, which saw Rosanne Cash dealing with the deaths of her mother, Vivian Liberto, her father, Johnny Cash, and her stepmother, June Carter Cash -- all of whom passed within a two-year span -- one might assume that her next project would move into an even deeper level of bleakness, but with ...
After the dark and chilling themes of 2006's Black Cadillac, which saw Rosanne Cash dealing with the deaths of her mother, Vivian Liberto, her father, Johnny Cash, and her stepmother, June Carter Cash -- all of whom passed within a two-year span -- one might assume that her next project would move into an even deeper level of bleakness, but with The List, it's immediately clear that she has instead found a more measured place to stand, and it's a lovely and redemptive outing that looks back to go forward. When Cash turned 18, her father, alarmed that his daughter only knew the songs that were getting played on the radio, gave her a list of what he considered 100 essential American songs; Cash kept that list, and now she's drawn on it for this wonderfully nuanced outing that brims with a kind of redemptive timelessness. The List is a renewal and a testament to life, and it belongs to her father as much as it belongs to her, a beautiful restatement of her father's passions, only now, they've become his daughter's treasures, as well. It's an affirming story, but that's all it would be if Cash didn't sing her heart out here. And she does sing her heart out. The opener, a version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Miss the Mississippi and You," is full of comfortable grace and sentiment, and Cash keeps that fine emotional tone throughout this set. Songs like the folk classic "500 Miles" feel at once both lovingly rendered and reborn for a new century in Cash's hands, and she doesn't update them so much as find redemption and solace in them, which in turn gives these songs a bright relevance, and because of the connection to her father and the list he gave to her, it also feels like a deep personal statement. There's so much to take comfort in here, including her fine rendering of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," a nice turn at Harlan Howard's "Heartaches by the Number" (which features Elvis Costello), a calm but still spooky duet with Jeff Tweedy on the faux-murder ballad "Long Black Veil," and a duet with Bruce Springsteen on Hal David and Paul Hampton's "Sea of Heartbreak." Cash sings with a calm, measured authority, and all these the songs fit together with the same sort of refreshing resignation and care. Contemporary country radio probably won't touch anything here, since country these days seems to be more about name-checking than any actual preservation, but Cash is after something else again -- it's about connecting with the past and carrying it forward as an act of personal faith. It has nothing to do with hats or belt buckles. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi