Cash delivers requiem for her father

Published May 1, 2006

She has never released a clunker of an album since she burst on the scene with Seven Year Ache in 1981. Like many artists, though, Rosanne Cash’s most significant work has been spurred by personal pain and spiritual reflection. [pullquote]Now 50, Ms. Cash has delivered in 2006 a sometimes dark, often chilling, never cloying, and always poignant album in Black Cadillac. Its obvious reference point is the deaths of her father, Johnny Cash, her mother, Vivian Liberto, and her stepmother June Carter Cash in the last couple of years. While it will be arbitrarily placed in the country category by some, Ms. Cash’s work is far more – a blend of country, pop, rock, jazz, and R&B. That is truer than ever before on this album, which has her precise songwriting blended with the expert co-production and co-writing of her husband John Leventhal and co-production of Bill Bottrell.The lyrical messages of these songs are all imbued with the stages of the grieving process. They also address a spiritual quest which ranges from outright doubt (World Without Sound) to unmitigated faith (God Is In The Roses).The catchiest pieces might sniff the charts: the elegantly rocking title track Black Cadillac; the bluegrass / honky tonk rich Radio Operator; the driving elegy Like Fugitives; the relatively poppy minor chord toggle Dreams Are Not My Home; and the N’awlins-spiced World Without Sound. The meat of the album, though, is a half-dozen slow ballads and anthems, as they are truly where the artist’s heart and soul open for all to see and hear. A trio of piano-based compositions are especially notable. I Was Watching You is a gorgeous circle of life reflection which begins with the yet-unborn Rosanne peering from the heavens at her parents wedding, and ends with them looking down upon her on this mortal coil today. God Is In The Roses has a similar theme, and its tone is clear when the song title fleshes out into the bottom line lyric “God is in the roses and the thorns.” The World Unseen is the coup de grace. It is a requiem for her famous father which elegantly borrows the phrase “westward leading, still proceeding” from the carol We Three Kings. It includes reminiscences of the addictions that marked the life of both dad and daughter (“I will look for you in morphine and in dreams”) and their shared musical gift (“I will look for you between the grooves of songs we sing”) as part of an assertion that death does not separate life or love. In a broad sense, that is the message of the entire album. The recorded snippets of Johnny’s voice to his then-baby daughter before the first and last song tracks on the album and the 71 seconds of silence that is the 13th and final track 0:71 as a symbol of the fact that both Johnny Cash and Vivian Liberto died at age 71 are obvious bookends. The artistic statement that is the album itself is the meat of a stunning tribute and a baring of a soul in the stages of grief and celebration of life.Wilfred Langmaid is student advocate and lecturer in biology at the University of New Brunswick, and a priest in the diocese of Fredericton.


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