My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ’10 Song Demo’

Rosanne’s debut for Capitol in 1996 was a new start for her in more ways than one. She was no longer concerned artistically with dissecting the failure of her marriage to Rodney Crowell, and no longer interested in making anything that might be regarded as conventional country music. Rosanne wrote all the songs (there are actually eleven rather than ten), all but one by herself, and this is really a showcase of Rosanne as a songwriter not tied to any genre. She was also pursuing prose writing at this time, publishing her first (and so far last) collection of short stories, Bodies Of Water, the same year. Recorded in New York and produced by Rosanne with her new husband John Leventhal as a demo for the record label, the executives liked the results enough to release it as it stood. This decision dictated the marketing of the record, with the title and artwork rather deliberately positioning this as the work of a serious artist rather than the hitmaker Rosanne had been a decade before.

The tastefully understated production and Rosanne’s vocals do sound very good, but as background listening (when not paying close attention to the lyrics), these songs have a real tendency to blend into one another without much variation in pace or mood.

‘The Summer I Read Collette’ harks back effectively to a clever girl’s teenage exploration of life and sensuality sparked by her reading; the title (embarrassingly mis-spelt on the liner notes and album cover) relates to Colette, the French novelist obsessed with youthful sexuality the anniversary of whose birth occurred when Rosanne was 18. It is melodic and passionate, and feels as autobiographical as anything else Cash has written. It is not a country song in concept or style, but the subject and theme convince, and this is perhaps the most memorable songs on the album, as the imagery is intense and the tune more distinctive than the remainder of the material.

The closing track, ‘Take My Body’ is also memorable, a strong defiance of cultural demands for modern American women as Rosanne admits to growing older

‘If I Were A Man’ beat Beyonce and Reba to the titular idea, and is a more thoughtful, low key and personal if decidedly less catchy take on the subject matter, and in fact it forms just one option in a sprawlingly discursive reflection.

The thoughtful piano-led ‘Price Of Temptation’ is good, with an intense lyric, although it gets a bit repetitive. It has a nice feel and beautifully judged vocal. ‘Bells & Roses’ is a hushed, velvety ballad about the depression following a breakup, which sounds decent, but is one-paced and repetitive, and frankly boring.

The Jerusalem-set and agnostic ‘Western Wall’ has a very dull melody, but must have been one of Rosanne’s favorites, as she chose to re-cut it for her next studio album, Rules Of Travel, and was also covered by the stellar pairing of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. ‘List Of Burdens’ picks up the pace a little, the tenderly sung ‘Child Of Steel’, and the laid-back ‘I Just Don’t Talk About It’, the only cowrite (with Leventhal), and the closing ‘Mid-Air’ are all pleasant enough background listening, but tend to blur together.

Love song ‘I Want To Know’ has some good lines but is very repetitive and has the least attractive production choices.

I like the overall feel of this record better than some of her early 80s work where she seems to be striving too hard to be creating a new direction for country music. Here she abandons that struggle and lets the songs breathe in a way which doesn’t date, but too many of the songs fail to make an individual or lasting impact.

The album failed to chart and was understandably ignored by radio despite critical acclaim, leading to a hiatus in Rosanne’s recording career. It is available digitally, and cheap used copies of the CD are easy to find. It should appeal to Rosanne’s diehard fans, and to those who like literate female singer-songwriters of the ilk of post-major label Mary Chapin Carpenter, without any particular genre ties.

Grade: B-

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