My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Vivian Liberto-Cash

Album Review – Rosanne Cash – ‘Black Cadillac’

A musical memoir, Black Cadillac finds Cash channeling the pain of losing her stepmother June, her father Johnny, and her mother Vivian within a two-year period into her most personal album yet. A dark and often moody reflection on her life, Black Cadillac displays some strokes of genius and is easily the best album of her career.

It was also split down the middle with producers- half the tracks were produced by her husband John Leventhal while the other half was produced by Bill Bottrell. This split personality in production didn’t hinder the project one bit as both producers contributed to the greater whole of the project.

The centerpiece of the record, “I Was Watching You” is my favorite song she’s ever recorded. Solely written by Cash, it’s the haunting tale of a child watching their parent’s love affair from heaven long before conception. It then twists in the end to the parent watching the child from heaven, after they’ve died. A bleak tale, it’s so beautifully orchestrated and is so effortlessly perfect, you can’t help but be in awe of a master at work. The piano-laced production adds the ideal amount of heaviness to the track, grounding the tale in just enough sorrow without going overboard.

Another such song is “House on the Lake,” a personal reflection about the Hendersonville, Tennessee residence Johnny and June called home. The property, while undergoing a complete restoration by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, burned to the ground in 2007. “House” serves as a lasting legacy to the place with the “Blue bare room, the wood and nails” where “there’s nothing left to take” because “love and years are not for sale.” There’s something uniquely special in this tale about home – introspection is rarely executed this masterfully.  More than the average where I’m from song, “House” stands as a legacy to a home that natured one of country music’s greatest love stories.

And it’s that elevation from ordinary to a sense of importance that binds Black Cadillac. These aren’t just rants of a grieving woman but rather reflections of the life Cash was brought into and the legacy she now has to uphold. But it’s how she honors her parents that make this album truly shine.

In the opening track, we hear some faint crackling before the familiar voice, seemingly from beyond the grave, chimes in with “Rosanne C’mon.” From there Cash launches into “Black Cadillac” which juxtaposes the hearse that brought her father to his funeral with the car he used to drive. The production is cloudy yet doesn’t intrude on our ability to focus on the lyrics. And in another gesture of honor, the horns at the end of the song are meant to recall the distinctive horn work from her dad’s “Ring of Fire.”

What follows, “Radio Operator” is easily the most rocking song on the whole project. It comes as a bit of a jolt after the somber opening while “Burn Down This Town,” a song about Johnny’s love of fire, continues this rollicking trend.

“God Is In The Roses” is a haunting tale of reemergence and self-discovery. It isn’t so much about the omnipresent nature of the universe, but rather of redefining the meaning of place in the deepest parts of our souls – “The sun is on the cemetery/Leaves are on the stones/There never was a place on earth/That felt so much like home.” I’ve never heard it put that way before, but the transcendent power of the graveyard is very palpable.

The rest of the album follows suit in brilliantly articulating Cash’s sense of loss. “The World Unseen” is another tale of descent, this time into the unknown world of life without your guiding force. What on some level could be viewed as a simple break-up ballad is rendered so much more in the imagery Cash conveys – “You must be somewhere in the stars/’Cause from a distance comes the sound of your guitar.” Her ability to convey so much with very little only heightens the beauty of this song, as does the simple production of piano and light drums. They give the song just enough without overpowering the message.

“Like Fugitives” attacks the bitter side of grief, where anger replaces any sense of compassion. The theme of life without is still present here yet it’s everyone else’s inability to understand that insights the rage – “It’s a strange new world we live in/Where the church leads you to hell/And the lawyers get the money/For the lives they divide and sell.”  With that line, Cash perfectly articulates the weirdness of a dead parent and the mess the children are left with in their wake. As with “God Is In The Roses” she accurately puts into words what is often hard to communicate. And the understated production fits the song perfectly.

In listening to this album, I am in awe of how well Cash was able to put every emotion of grief into words. She’s made a very special album here, one relatable to anyone who has lost a parent or a grandparent. I especially like the sentiment behind “0:71,” the closing track which finds 71 seconds of silence for each year of her parent’s natural lives. Sometimes the perfect way to honor someone is by saying nothing at all.

Only one very slight complaint has hindered my enjoyment of this exceptional musical project. As a listening experience, Black Cadillac is weighted down with heaviness and too many similarly produced tracks leave need for variety. I’ve owned the project since its release in 2006, and have only really been into the first half of the album. But this isn’t a fault of anyone involved – the album perfectly conveys the grief and sorrow one feels when your elders have ascended into heaven. And for that, Black Cadillac elevates musical memoirs to new and exciting heights.

This is a very worthy addition to anyone’s music collection and essential listening for anyone who’s lost a parent or grandparent. Copies are very easy to find in either digital or hard copy from both Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: A 

Spotlight Artist: Rosanne Cash

As the first child born to Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian Liberto-Cash, Rosanne Cash saw first-hand all her father’s stardom and the ups and downs that came with it. Born in Memphis, the Cash clan moved to L.A. when Rosanne was still a toddler and following her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager, she joined her father Johnny’s road show just out of high school. By the age of 20, she was a featured singer in the show and was soon scouting a record deal of her own. It would have been easy for Rosanne to call on her father’s considerable Music City connections to get her foot in the door, but in true Cash fashion, the eldest daughter took the long way around to her own stardom. She had found a kindred spirit in Rodney Crowell, who was then a member of Emmylou Harris’s famed Hot Band, and the pair set out writing and recording a demo album, which caught the attention of German-based label Ariola. Her first self-titled album was recorded mostly in Munich, and was never released in the U.S. It did, however, lead to a deal with Columbia, which was coincidentally, her father’s label at the time. Following the album’s release, she moved briefly back to L.A. to study at the renowned Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, but soon relocated again to Nashville with her new husband Crowell in tow.

Her second album – and first for Columbia – produced 3 top 40 hits and was a critical success, but failed to launch the young Cash’s career in any big way. It would take Seven Year Ache, her third release in 1981, to light the fire under her career when the title track soared to the top of country singles chart and landed inside the pop top 40. The song’s instantly recognizable melody and stream-of-consciousness lyrics set the template for one of the most commercially successful careers of the 1980s. Two more singles from the album found their way to the top of the country charts and the album was soon certified gold. After this initial burst of mainstream recognition, it seemed Rosanne was doomed to follow the path already trod by Johnny as she fell into a period of substance abuse, and her musical output suffered as a result. 1982’s Somewhere In The Stars fell short of its commercial and critical expectations and had many already dismissing the young singer as a flash in the pan. In 1984, after a stint in rehab, Cash again went into the studio to record the dance pop-flavored Rhythm and Romance. This time writing or co-writing all but 2 of the album’s songs, Rhythm restored Cash’s place at the top of the country charts with 2 chart-toppers and another pair of top 5 singles. With the lead single from this set, “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”, she also picked up her first Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

From 1985 to ’89, all of Cash’s singles would hit the top 10 of the country singles chart, with all but 2 hitting the top. She would end the 1980s with a total of 11 chart-toppers. (As many career #1’s as her father, and second only to Reba McEntire among country females in the ’80s.) 1987’s King’s Record Shop was an embarrassment of riches, housing 4 consecutive #1’s – a first for a female album at the time – and is a start-to-finish classic. King’s Record Shop was also Cash’s final album of “country” material, barring her next Hits collection with 2 new songs. As the 1990’s dawned, Cash began to take her music in a more introspective singer-songwriter direction that didn’t play well on country radio at the time, and probably wouldn’t have in any era of the genre’s history. It’s interesting that an artist at their apex would make a bold maneuver and risk career suicide, but that’s exactly what Cash did. Interiors was not only introspective, but very autobiographical as the material stemmed from her personal problems and fighting with Crowell.

As the 1990s rolled around, Cash was out of favor with radio – having charted only 1 top 40 single from Interiors – and none of her subsequent singles from her final Columbia release, 1993’s The Wheel, even made a dent on the country charts.  No singles were released from Ten Song Demo in 1996 and Cash ended the decade not a hit maker, but as an Americana mainstay and elder stateswoman of sorts in the newly minted fringe format.  She divorced Rodney Crowell in 1992, while recording The Wheel, an album ripe with themes of despair, regret, and divorce overtones.  She married the album’s co-producer John Leventhal in 1995 after settling in Manhattan.

Coinciding with the release of 10 Song Demo on Capitol Records was the Hyperion release of her first novella, Bodies of Water, a collection of short stories with mostly southern gothic leanings.  A pregnancy and vocal chord problems in the late ’90s kept Cash out of the recording studio. She instead published a children’s storybook and was the editor of a collection of prose by noted songwriters. 2003’s Rules of Travel was her first studio album in nearly a decade and also earned her yet another Grammy nomination, this time in the Best Contemporary Folk Album category. Though the album produced no charting singles, a poignant duet with her father on “September When It Comes” received scattered airplay, and the album was a year-end critic’s favorite.  Inspired by the successive deaths of her father, mother, and stepmother, Cash’s next album, Black Cadillac, directly addressed those losses and the beautifully dark affair was again heralded and earned her another Grammy nod.

Following brain surgery in 2007, which caused her to cancel many tour dates in support of Black Cadillac, the singer continued writing for major publications such as The New York Times.  In 2009, she issued another studio album, The List. Culled from the now-famous list of 100 Essential Country Songs compiled by Johnny Cash for his teenage daughter, the album features sparse retellings of a dozen of those songs, and was another critical favorite.

Recent years have seen Rosanne Cash continuing to build on, and protect, her father’s legacy. Most recently, during the 2008 presidential election season, she issued a scathing public statement rebuffing remarks made by singer-songwriter John Rich saying it was “dangerous” in the case of the elder Cash to “presume to say publicly what I ‘know’ he thought or felt”.  Rosanne continues to tour and record with other notable artists, and is especially witty and interesting with her tweets. Keep reading this month as we feature the musical output of this bright, talented, and enduring woman.