My Kind of Country

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

Album Review – Rosanne Cash – ‘Rules of Travel’

The years following Ten Song Demo were the most trying of Cash’s career. She began work on Rules of Travel in 1998, but the recording was delayed due to her pregnancy and a polyp forming on her vocal chords rendering her unable to sing for 2 and a half years. In March 2003, Travel, her first full studio album for Capitol Records, finally saw the light of day.

Travel not only marked Cash’s return to recording but it also ushered in a new period of her career, one where she would blend the sensibilities of both country and folk while embracing her ancestry in full-force.  While not quite a return to the sound that garnered her fame, Travel is firmly within the Americana genre, a place where artistry shines over commercialism.

All and all Rules of Travel is a solid if somewhat unspectacular effort. While the songs are easy on the ears and feature varying tempo, there aren’t many that stick out as truly outstanding. The only genuine masterpiece is the much-heralded “September When It Comes,” a duet with her father Johnny, made all the more eerie by his death in September of that year. Written by Cash and her husband John Leventhal,  “September” is arguably the most important track she’s recorded in recent years.

The rest of the album may not eclipse that level of importance, but it still manages to shine, despite the occasional missteps. Opening track “Beautiful Pain” benefits greatly from Sheryl Crow’s harmony vocal while any magic in “I’ll Change For You” is lost in the marriage of Steve Earle’s mumble and the repetitious lyrics. When I first bought the album eight years ago, I remember questioning the overuse of the line “I’ll Change For You” in the song. The imagination Cash may have been going for was lost for me.

The sentiment in “Rules of Travel,” however, never was, which is why it’s my favorite song on the album. A beautifully sung ballad, Cash’s vocal on the chorus always reminded me of Mary Chapin Carpenter. I love the effortless elegance of the production, how it keeps the song from being too soft yet too loud, and the guitars and drums infuse some much-needed life into the track.

Like “September,” “Travel” stands out by being different, a fact lost by the majority of tracks on the album. “Western Wall,” doesn’t sound much different here than on Ten Song Demo and the quiet slowness hinders my enjoyment, while “Three Steps Dow,” “Closer Than I Appear,” and “Last Stop Before Home” are so similar in sound and tempo, I find it hard to tell them apart.

While those tracks bleed together, adding up to less than the sum of their parts, there are those that rise above mediocrity. “44 Stories” is elevated by the haunting production track while “Will You Remember Me” is the rare gem that conveys the pain of two lovers split apart. She wants nothing more than to be remembered no matter where on earth he may be. And “Hope Against Hope” wins due to the driving drumbeat, which accomplishes bringing life to the track like it did for “Travel.”

All and all Rules of Travel is a very good Rosanne Cash album and a worthy addition to any fan’s collection, for “September When It Comes” alone, the shining moment for country music and Cash’s status as a legend in her own right. But the quiet production becomes a bit weighty leaving the listener in need of something rocking in the vein of “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” or “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” But that being said, she proves why she was greatly missed as both a songwriter and performer.

Rules of Travel is available in both hard and digital copy from both Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B

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