Black Cadillac

Rosanne Cash

Capitol, 2006

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


It has been thirty years now since the release of Rosanne Cash’s eponymous debut album. Since that time, Cash has gone from strength to strength both as a songwriter and as a performer, blending country with varying styles including folk, rock, and blues. Like many children of famous performers, Cash was eager to follow in the footsteps of her legendary father Johnny and worked hard to establish herself as an artist in her own right. After doing odd jobs for her father’s road band (including the laundry), she was eventually promoted to a backing singer and given the occasional solo spot during his gigs.

After a brief stint at Vanderbilt University studying English and drama, Cash left to study acting at Lee Strasberg’s drama school in the hope of pursuing an acting career.  Not long after joining the school, Cash was offered a record deal by German label Ariola, which she quickly accepted, leaving school to begin work on her debut. In the years following, she went on to become one of the most respected and loved female country performers. Her smooth voice lent itself easily to different styles, and she would flirt with the cross-over crowd with varying degrees of success.

Cash began recording her eleventh studio album, Black Cadillac, in late 2004 following the loss of her father and stepmother June Carter Cash. By the time the record was completed, she would also endure the passing of her mother. It is therefore no surprise that this album is dedicated to all three and is quite somber in its content and overall vibe. An extreme close up of a deep red rose for the cover and the black Cadillac hearse on the rear sets the tone for the music to follow even before a single note is heard.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track opens the album with the line, “It was a black Cadillac that drove you away,” reinforcing the fact that this is definitely not a party album; instead, it is one best enjoyed at selected times of solitude. The song is basically a hymn for those passed on and can be easily related to by most listeners. The mood brightens (but not for long) with the glorious “Radio Operator,” a country-fueled rocker complete with an infectious chorus that was stuck in my head for so long, it took a heavy dose of Motley Crue to cure.

This is followed by “I Was Watching You,” a curious ode to her late father that covers his marriage to her mother through to his passing. The deeply personal lyrics (“(“Til September when you slipped away / In the middle of my life on the longest day”) are complemented by Cash’s sensitively soulful performance. The pace quickens again for “Burn Down This Town,” another rocker that’s great fun and is a definite highlight.

Another gem here is “House On The Lake,” which was co-written with her husband John Leventhal. It’s a perfect blend of country-style story telling with a folk/blues arrangement. “Like Fugitives” again deals with death and the effects on the relationship between the writer and her siblings, and it’s almost alt-rock in its execution.

The more hopeful “Dreams Are Not My Home” is easily the most uplifting song here, while next up, “World Without Sound” is a slow rocker that deals with religion, money, and love, chronicling Cash’s search for just who or what to believe in (plus, it comes complete with a horn section).

While at times the album can get bogged down by the morbidity of the ballads (“God Is In The Roses,” “The World Unseen,” and “Like A Wave”), the album ends on positive note with “The Good Intent,” followed by “0.71,” which is seventy-one seconds of silence, a second for each year that Johnny Cash lived. It’s a somewhat fitting ending for what is essentially a memorial album.

Produced by Bill Bottrell with John Leventhal, Black Cadillac is musically sublime, no doubt due to the brilliant group of musicians assembled here, including Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers and the Divinyls’ Charley Drayton. It is hard to fault an album this good. Cash’s vocals are exceptional; mastering the art of restraint, she is in great form here. The players are truly brilliant also, and given the darkness of the songs they were handed, they brought as much light to the proceedings as possible.

After heavily touring the album and a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album, Rosanne Cash is again set to venture into the studio to begin work on her twelfth album sometime soon. Who knows what we’ll hear next from Ms. Cash?  One can only hope the healing is done and it’ll be a much lighter affair this time around.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.