Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2009 album from Johnny Cash's enormously talented singing/songwriting daughter. The List features Rosanne's contemporary interpretations of songs from a list of essential Country songs passed on to her by her legendary father. Featuring duet partners Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, and Jeff Tweedy. 12 tracks.
The List is an album by Rosanne Cash, released in 2009. When she was 18, Johnny Cash gave his daughter Rosanne a list of 100 essential country songs in an effort to expand her knowledge of country music. On the album, Rosanne re-interprets 12 of the songs from the list through her own perspective on country music, her father, and her life in New York instead of Nashville. It also includes guest performances by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright.
The album contains country songs made famous by Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Don Gibson, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Patsy Cline, and other country stars, as well the traditional folk song "Motherless Children" and 1960's folk numbers by Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
The List peaked at #5 on Billboard's country album chart -- Cash's first top ten album on the chart in 22 years -- and hit #22 on the generalBillboard Hot 200, topping her previously most successful album on that chart, 1981's Seven Year Ache which peaked at #26. It is also her first entry on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart, where it debuted and peaked at #8.
"Rosanne Cash has always proven too unruly for mainstream country. Even on ', a mix of early folk and modern country standards, she steers well clear of the genre's confines... Although meant to honor father Johnny's musical tastes, 'better serves as an exquisite reminder of Rosanne's own history of artistic rebelliousness." -Paste Magazine
"Rosanne Cash's new album takes its name from a list her father prepared to provide his daughter an education in country music, via 100 essential songs. Cash has culled 12 and offers them asThe List, an intensely focused and affecting addition to her catalog. Predictably, given its personal lineage, this new record has a distinctly ruminative feel. But where Cash's last album, 2006's Black Cadillac, was an extended and direct tribute to her father - as well as her mother, Vivian Liberto Cash Distin, and step-mother, June Carter Cash - The List hits several of the same notes but from a more oblique angle.
The sound here is of a piece with her recent output: smooth and slightly folky with a richly detailed atmosphere. For all its nominal gentleness, however, The List features some gutsy moves. Her cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" is an obvious example. It's a heavily freighted song given her father's involvement in Dylan's Nashville Skyline. Cash wisely decides to side-step any familiar arrangement, allowing her version to unfold slowly, with the steady rhythm of a slightly accelerated heartbeat. This deliberateness is always admirable but sometimes close to self-defeating. It seems to take Bruce Springsteen, that "hillbilly singer from New Jersey", as Steve Earle called him, to shake loose "Sea of Heartbreak" and make it move with the bounce that it does. So while this record clearly doesn't intend to overwhelm, it makes subtler - and perhaps more rewarding - demands of its listeners.
As a singer, Cash's touch seems to have softened some. That means there are stretches where she recedes a bit into producer Jon Leventhal's nuanced soundscapes and their digitized brightness, an environment impressive for its clarity but one that occasionally lacks a natural breath. At first glance, Cash's firm enunciation feels at odds with the songs' lineage in country and folk. But it comes clear on repeated listens that The List offers these songs as dressed-up siblings of the entries in the Great American Songbook. These are standard songs no matter the context or arrangement, she argues. And it's a neat trick that serves both the singer and the songs well.
Despite her Southern roots, Cash has long been a proud New Yorker and that urbane sensibility often shows up on The List. Indeed, this is ultimately a country record gone to the city, as her interpretations are more measured and a bit cooler than the original versions. That's what makes a track like Hedy West's classic "500 Miles" all the more poignant. Cash understands that, in the contemporary world, home is a relative term, but that doesn't make it any easier to be away. Similarly, "Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow" turns the Carter Family song inside out somehow. It's the uncertain clause "perhaps he'll weep for me" in the dour song's refrain that the whole thing pivots on, as it moves through despair into a new kind of hopefulness, however ill-fated it might actually be. Hope against hope, as they say - another iteration of Cash's mature vision.
With Black Cadillac, Rosanne Cash proved herself as one of our most consistent and generous songwriters. On The List, it's a remarkable testament to her broader artistry that the same consistency and generosity extends to a batch of cover songs. Thanks to Rosanne, Johnny Cash's list is a gift that survives to give again." - PopMatters
"The surname Cash must be the mother of all mixed blessings when forging a career in country music. While it does lend anything you might do a gravitas that you'd struggle harder to acquire if born Smith, it also means that nothing you sing is ever going to be judged entirely on its own merits.
On The List, Rosanne Cash ventures wilfully and cheerfully into the formidable shadow cast by her late father. The story goes that when Rosanne was a teenager in the early 1970s, Johnny Cash became perturbed at his daughter's seduction by The Beatles and subsequent similar pop frivolity, compiled her a list of the hundred essential country songs, and instructed her to familiarise herself with them. The List whittles Cash's commandments down to twelve.
Aware that a country audience will be familiar with these songs - not least with her father's versions of many of them - Cash works hard to recast them in her own image, fiddling frequently (and occasionally overly fussily) with tempos and arrangements. Harlan Howard's Heartaches by the Number is shifted down a gear from its usual upbeat shuffle, and presented as a sinuous, snarling boogie (Elvis Costello's backing vocals bestow additional grit). The Hal David/Paul Hampton cut Sea of Heartbreak is served up as 1970s-style Nashville countrypolitan, with backing vocals by Bruce Springsteen (it's a definite advantage of the Cash brand that soliciting big-name collaborators is not difficult: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy joins in on the Danny Dill/Marijohn Wilkin folk melodrama Long Black Veil, and Rufus Wainwright on Merle Haggard's Silver Wings).
For all the labours of the guest stars, however, the most affecting entries on The List are those which make the most of Cash's voice, as it has always been a deceptively potent instrument. Though it lacks the operatic edge of some better-known country divas (Wynette, Cline) its gentle, almost conversational tone brings a devastating matter-of-factness to the lurid grief chronicled in these songs. Her takes on Hank Williams' Take These Chains From My Heart and Hank Cochran's She's Got You are sufficiently compelling that the parlour game of comparisons with other versions becomes redundant. Given the voices that have sung them before, that's praise indeed." - BBC
"Despite the endlessly repeated backstory, Rosanne Cash's new album has little to do with her father and his influence on her tastes and career, at least not beyond suggesting the tracklist. Rather, The List plays like a tribute to the durability of country songwriting and its impact over the decades. Despite the genre's lowly reputation throughout most of the twentieth century, she argues, songs such as Don Gibson's "Sea of Heartbreak," Harlan Howard's "I'm Movin' On" and Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" can - and still do - speak to anyone's pains and troubles, spanning geography and class.
Reinforcing this argument is Cash's decision to move these songs from the country to the city, favoring a smoky, jazzy setting that nods to Owen Bradley and Norah Jones alike. On "Miss the Mississippi and You," the curlicue guitar licks and buoyant brushed-snare pattern lend the song an easygoing river current that pushes her spry, precise vocals along steadily. "Long Black Veil" and Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" both get fluttery acoustic arrangements that emphasize their delicate melodies and forlorn sentiments.
Generally these austere arrangements work well, but her low-down, slowed-down "I'm Movin' On" can't even get the engine to turn over, much less peal out on the highway. Likewise, another song about travel - Haggard's "Silver Wings" - lacks the forlorn finality of a good-bye, despite elegant backing vocals from Rufus Wainwright (Marianne Faithfull does better by Hag covering "Sing Me Back Home" on her own covers album, Easy Come Easy Go).
Like her father and like so many of the artists she covers on The List, Cash does not fit easily or very naturally into the parameters of country music, so this foray into new sounds and styles is neither a surprise or much of a stretch. With its subdued twang and exacting enunciation, her voice has too much polish to steal "She's Got You" from Patsy Cline (and what artist, living or dead, could possibly do that?), but those same qualities illuminate The Carter Family's "Motherless Children" and "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow" and lend them a palpable sense of loss.
As the album title implies, Cash is engaging with these songs as a collection rather than as individual compositions, so it's hard not to hear The List as part of the recent deluge of covers albums, including Tanya Tucker's overrated My Turn and Patty Loveless' rated-just-right Mountain Soul project - or, God help us all, Rod Stewart's hoary series of standards cash grabs. But perhaps the most interesting comparison, in concept if not necessarily in quality, is with Willie Nelson's ground-breakingStardust, which proved that country was big enough to welcome the urbane fare of Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin. The List recalculates that Vin diagram and, despite its shortcomings, strongly suggests that these songs are rich enough and malleable enough to be considered part of the Great American Songbook." - The9513
Rolling Stone (p.78) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Electronic shadings give new color and depth to the Hank Williams hit 'Take These Chains From My Heart'..."
Spin (p.74) - "Roseanne Cash delivers the most enjoyable history lesson....Cash is always in charge and always mesmerizing."
Entertainment Weekly (p.57) - "THE LIST is a testament to both Cash Jr.'s vocal talents and Cash Sr.'s catholic taste." -- Grade: B
Dirty Linen (p.45) - "'500 Miles,' made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary, is an unexpected little gem that showcases Cash's vocal talents, clear and direct as the song she sings."
Billboard (p.84) - "[T]he spotlight is rightfully on Cash, who sails gently through 'Miss the Mississippi and You' while deliciously strolling through Hank Snow's 'I'm Movin' On.'"
Record Collector (magazine) (p.92) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "The playing is understated throughout, Roseanne's guitarist and producer hubby John Leventhal staying true to the stripped-down folk motifs of the originals..."
Adapters: John Leventhal; Rosanne Cash.
Personnel: Jeff Tweedy, Rufus Wainwright, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen (vocals); John Leventhal (guitar, dobro, mandolin, harmonica, harmonium, organ, Wurlitzer organ, drums, percussion); Rick DePofi (bass clarinet, horns, piano); Zev Katz, Tim Luntzel (upright bass); Joe Bonadio, Shawn Pelton (drums); Curtis King (background vocals).
Audio Mixers: John Leventhal; Rick DePofi.
Photographer: Deborah Feingold.
Arrangers: John Leventhal; Rosanne Cash.
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. 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. 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. There's also 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.
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