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Cash Comes On Strong

After a polyp sidelined Rosanne Cash for two years, she returns with a new CD that reflects strength and artistic integrity.

COUNTRY ROCK SINGER Rosanne Cash could not sing for years after she had reached a prime spot in her career. The daughter of music legend Johnny Cash lost her voice for almost two and a half years after a polyp shut down her vocal chords. There were days she could not even speak. But after a lot of hard work with vocal therapists, her ability to speak and sing gradually returned to normal in late 2000.

This ordeal sparked a full-blown identity crisis that initially led Cash, 47, to become depressed. But she eventually used the challenge to put her life in perspective and tap into a level of creativity that allowed her work to expand.

During this time, Cash published a book, continued to raise a child and wrote lyrics and music with her husband, John Leventhal, a producer, songwriter and guitarist. The result of her soul-searching appears on her latest album, “Rules Of Travel.” This is her first new CD since “10 Song Demo” in 1996.

Cash’s new record has 11 songs, most of which she wrote. Marc Cohn, Jacob Dylan, Joe Henry and Craig Northey contributed to the album as well. Friends and guest vocalists such as Sheryl Crow and Steve Earl appear on the CD. Most notably, her father, whose longtime wife (and Rosanne’s stepmother) June Carter Cash, died on May 15, sings on “September When It Comes.”

Surprisingly, Cash’s vocal therapy not only helped her to sing again, but also rejuvenated her voice. On the album, her distinct vocals are still jagged and raw, but also richer and more resonant than before.

Cash has been making hit records since 1979. Her compelling mix of country, folk and rock is in many ways a predecessor of today’s buffed up country-pop by Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Cash debuted with “Right Or Wrong,” which was soon followed by her breakthrough album “Seven Year Ache” in 1981. The record delivered three No. 1 country hits, including the title track, which crossed over to the top spot on the Billboard Pop chart.

EVEN THOUGH CASH, one of four daughters, grew up in her famous father’s shadow, she has found a niche of her own. The anti-diva has developed a knack for turning seemingly trivial emotions into songs of timeless quality. Her compassionate songwriting conveys a deep understanding of some of the elemental moments in life.

“Rules Of Travel” is no different. The album explores mortality, friendships and relationships with great empathy and sensitivity. Her acoustic- and guitar-driven sound still has a country edge, but is more folk-rock oriented than before. At times, Cash is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel and other greats of the ‘70s American songwriting generation.

The album kicks off with “Beautiful Pain,” an achingly honest pop song that features Sheryl Crow’s background vocals. The title track, “Rules Of Travel,” is a compelling pop rock tune with a catchy chorus that poetically describes the challenge of true intimacy between two lovers. The song’s lyrics shape a metaphor about getting inside someone’s heart and navigating carefully not to break or bend it.

A high point on the album is Cash’s moving duet with her father on “September When It Comes.” The song explores mortality and dealing with the burden of unresolved issues late in life. It offers a candid look at a very private moment between father and daughter.

Another highlight is the sensitive “Will You Remember Me,” which features a simple acoustic guitar arrangement and a beautiful chorus melody. Cash continues her radio-friendly vibe on “Closer Than I Appear” and “Hope Against Hope.”

With “Rules of Travel,” Rosanne Cash fearlessly carries a torch of artistic integrity in a musical era dominated by overproduced pop acts.

June 6, 2003 in Music Reviews | Permalink

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