REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/24/2010
As the story goes, Johnny Cash gave his daughter (an aspiring singer at the time) a list of what he considered to be the greatest 100 country/folk songs ever written. Although only eighteen years old at the time, Rosanne kept the list and went about forging a career that has seen her become one of the premiere female country performers of her generation.
Her last album (2006’s Black Cadillac) dealt with the grief from losing her mother, father, and stepmother over a few years prior to writing the record. Now, for her twelfth studio album, Cash has decided to dig up that list and select twelve songs from it to record. She gathered together a stellar cast of players and special guests and had her husband (songwriter/producer/musician John Leventhal) produce it, which all helped to make it as great as it is.
The List is one of Cash’s best albums and a fantastic contemporary country record. All of the songs were treated with the love and respect they deserve, and Leventhal’s expertly deft production values are as reliable and effective as ever before. Cash’s voice just gets better with every release, and she now uses it to evoke an array of emotions that would have been a fair challenge for the younger Cash, but these days she just makes it seem so easy, it’s ridiculous.
With songs like “Take These Chains From My Heart” and “I’m Movin’ On,” Cash is every bit the weary romantic realizing she’s out of love and getting older. On “She’s Got You” she delivers the story with a melancholy but defiant tone, and with “500 Miles,” it’s all about life away from home and the ones she loves, which Cash relates with all the tenderness and soul she can muster. Through all of this emotional imagery, Cash hits the mark time and time again. On “Miss The Mississippi And You” and “Girl From The North Country,” Cash offers up some fantastic interpretive readings, and the arrangements greatly enhance the lyrics in both cases.
Of the special guest spots, Cash hits pay dirt with The Boss on a laidback but soulful take of “Sea Of Heartbreak,” and with “Heartaches By Numbers,” she gets all country-rock with Elvis Costello. “Long Black Veil” with Jeff Tweedy and “Silver Wings” with Rufus Wainwright are pure country gems that neither man greatly enhances, but in Cash’s hands, they both are quite superb anyway.
The List is a mostly acoustic affair with some great electric guitar by Leventhal thrown into the more rock-friendly songs, giving the disc a little more edge in the right places. Not only has it been lauded by the critics, but it also is Cash’s highest charting and selling release in over twenty years. Simply put, The List couldn’t have been better, and it’s so rewarding to hear an artist who continues to grow and develop, not only recording “age-appropriate” material but material that’s worthy of her glorious talent and hard-fought reputation.