BLACK CADILLAC Rosanne Cash
"Every drop of rain that falls, falls for those who mourn / God is in the roses and the thorns."
In the weeks and months to come, if the publicity machine works according to plan, you will read much about how Black Cadillac is Rosanne Cash's tribute record to her mother, father, and stepmother, who all died in the last two and a half years. It is true--the CD is full of brilliant songs about mortality, love, loss, and acceptance. Hundreds of words will be written about the many ways Cash's lyrics paint poignant pictures of her relationships with her ancestors, and rightly so; one of the appeals of Country music is that it deals with adult themes and there is none more adult than leaving this mortal coil. But permit me here to focus instead on how Black Cadillac reflects Rosanne Cash the singer, the musician, and the unique artist, rather than the daughter.
You may have heard how she lost her ability to sing a few years ago, and for a scary time thought she might not regain it. Rules of Travel showed that the pipes had returned, and on this CD her vocals are stronger than they have ever been. Never one to rely on melismatic excess, or breathy, little girl seduction, Rosanne has taken a limited but distinctive instrument and built a career on instant recognizability, flawless phrasing, and unerring honesty. Her vocals have always hinted at country roots without any artificial twang, allowing her to easily straddle the extremes from Rhythm & Romance's pop gloss, to King's Record Shop's stripped-down grit. It was all embodied in her first big hit, "Seven Year Ache," where small town story telling met big city production.
The production chores on Black Cadillac are evenly divided, with Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry) and husband/guitarist John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin), alternating tunes. They manage to represent both the dichotomy and the melding of Cash's pop and roots sides. Bottrell's approach leans toward a keyboard weighted pop with rootsy undertones, while Leventhal's methodology is based in twangy guitars, with pop touches. At one point the two men cross over into each other's territory, with Bottrell couching the impossibly catchy, melodicism of "Dreams Are Not My Home" in chiming guitars and Leventhal swathing "Like A Wave" in moody, atmospheres. As throughout her recording history, Rosanne sounds equally at home in both settings, and her songs here are well served by the talents of both men.
Carrying on a dignified career in the glare of the pop music spotlight is not easy, but Ms. Cash has managed to write the book on how to navigate early stardom without losing your way. Barring the same fashion faux pas we were all heir to in the Eighties, she has always been the epitome of taste, turning out eleven classic records in twenty-seven years. This is probably because she only makes them when she means themand she never meant one more than Black Cadillac. Michael Ross
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