My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Right Or Wrong’

Rosanne’s U.S. debut in 1980 was produced by her new husband Rodney Crowell and recorded in their new home in LA. Many of the musicians were Rodney’s former band mates and successors in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, including Ricky Skaggs singing harmony on six tracks, but the music is several steps away from traditional or even conventional pop-country of the period. The pop-influenced production, no doubt ground-breakingly modern at the time, now sounds very dated, but Rosanne’s voice cuts through the clutter and the eclectic choice of material is pretty solid, if not often very deeply rooted in country music.

Rodney wrote ‘No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round’ and originally intended to record the duet with Rosanne, but decided when the pair attended a Bobby Bare concert that he would be a better choice. Bare was an established star (although one whose chart success tended to be hit or miss) with Outlaw credentials, and he was an admirer of Rodney Crowell’s work, having recently recorded the latter’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again’. The album’s outstanding song was Rosanne’s first hit single, and although it peaked at only #17, is a minor classic. Bare’s rougher vocals complement Rosanne’s velvety tones, and they convince as a couple fighting off the memory of old flames. The production on this track nicely balances a country feel with contemporary sensibilities.

Rodney contributed a further three songs, two of which had previously appeared on Rosanne’s ill-fated German release. There is a good version of ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’, which had just been a non-charting single for Rodney himself (and would be covered a few years later by Emmylou Harris), and epitomizes the mood of the album with its consideration of modern life. ‘Seeing’s Believing’ is an excellent song which deserves to be better known, with a fine vocal from Rosanne and Emmylou Harris adding a supportive harmony. However, I don’t really like the dreary sound of ‘Anybody’s Darlin’ (Anything But Mine)’.

‘Couldn’t Do Nothing Right’, largely forgotten today, was technically the album’s biggest hit, reaching #15 on Billboard. The production has a Caribbean feel which does not stand up very well today, although it is a well-written song looking back at a failed relationship, penned by singer Karen Brooks (who was to have a short chart career herself in the early 80s) and her husband Texas singer-songwriter Gary P Nunn. I prefer the upbeat ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’, a rather entertaining cover of an old calypso number, originally written by Trinidad’s Norman Span in the 30s but best known from Harry Belafonte’s 50s recording. Emmylou Harris sings harmony again on this proto-girlpower anthem.

The last single, ‘Take Me, Take Me’ peaked at 25. Rosanne’s vocals are soothingly tender on this melodic love song, and Sharon and Cheryl White sing harmony, but the percussion is unbearably intrusive and the song (also previously cut on the German album) doesn’t have much country influence. It was written by Keith Sykes, who also provided the title track, a fairly catchy mid-tempo pop song on a cheating theme.

Rosanne wrote just one of the songs, the pensive AC ballad ‘This Has Happened Before’, which shows her promise as a developing young songwriter and is one of the best tracks, with a pretty tune. She also commits to a spunky cover of her father’s ‘Big River’, which is another highlight.

The album is available on a 2-for-1 reissue CD with Seven Year Ache, also including Rosanne’s cover of ‘Not A Second Time’, an obscure and not very interesting Beatles song which had replaced ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’ on the European release of the album. It is probably only for Rosanne Cash completists, but includes some material worth hearing. Rosanne and Rodney were carving out their own artistically ambitious path, and if commercial success was limited at this stage, they were setting the pattern for Rosanne’s music over the next few years.

Grade: B

2 responses to “Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Right Or Wrong’

  1. Razor X September 5, 2011 at 8:48 am

    This album is definitely a mixed bag. I really like “No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round” and also “Seeing’s Believing” and “This Has Happened Before”. “Take Me, Take Me” isn’t a bag song but the production is terribly dated. I thought I’d really like her take on “Big River” but I was a bit disappointed in it as I felt her performance fell flat. I’d sort of like to hear her tackle that one today.

  2. luckyoldsun September 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Bare had a 22-year stretch where he had more than 50 singles hit the top 30 on the country including at least one every single year. And something like half of them were top-10. And the majority of them were top-20 or better. It’s rather amazing, considering that he was never super-hot–he only had one #1 and one #2–and was not universally viewed as a true country singer.
    He definitely should be in the H-o-F.

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