Rosanne Cash was an important, elevating presence in the country music landscape of the 1980s, who increasingly celebrated her urbane and literary inclinations and became recognized as a pillar of the Americana singer-songwriter community. She has only become more essentially significant with the passage of time and has devoted her three previous albums to exploring her relationship to her musical, cultural and regional roots. Her latest, She Remembers Everything, marks a shift in perspective and tone; rather than the complexities of inheritance, turning her mind to what it takes to dislodge entrenched patterns and hierarchies.
Four decades after releasing her first record, Right Or Wrong in 1980, this erudite daughter of the late great Johnny Cash and Vivian Liberto Cash still defies stereotypes. In a year when many country stars chose to remain silent on issues ranging from the NRA to gender equality, the 63-year-old singer wrote op-eds about preventing gun violence, leads advocacy and social-justice efforts (she helped promote the Music Modernization Act into law in September, and recently received a Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award), and performs concerts across the globe.
Cash is looking at the world with a critical eye. Her speech at this year’s Americana Music Awards Show where she received the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award, readily echoes her stance in this album. She made three points of which her first lines are quoted as follows –
“1. That artists and musicians are not damaged outcasts of society, but indispensable members. We are in fact the premier service industry for the heart and soul…
2. Women are not small, inferior versions of men. We are not objects or property. We have unique gifts to offer and if you discount us, the whole world tilts on an unnatural axis…
3. I believe with all my heart that a single child’s life is greater, more precious, and more deserving of the protection of this nation and of the adults in this room than the right to own a personal arsenal of military-style weapons. The killing of children in schools should not be collateral damage for the 2nd Amendment.”
Title track, ‘She Remembers Everything’ opens like an awakening, a shimmery mirage of organ chords followed by rapt vamping on piano and reverb-drenched ripples of guitar. Its mysterious central character is a traumatized woman who might be the narrator’s younger self or one of her victims. “Who knows who she used to be/before it all went dark?” Cash questions, and later, “I don’t know her now/my bitter pill, my broken vow/this girl who sings/she remembers everything.” Its measured beat and descending minor chords hint distantly at Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’; and its’ troubles stay vividly unresolved.
While the songs face sorrows, they don’t capitulate to them.
They place sadness alongside love and perseverance, the experiences of a long adult life; they savour consolations.
In the context of this deeply attentive song cycle, the image of a woman wielding her lived testimony lands as both a threat and a source of comfort.
When a comparison was drawn with her 1990 album, Interiors, in that it explores social issues and the universal themes of womanhood, noting Rosanne was a mother of five who had small kids back then, and became a grandmother while finishing She Remembers Everything, Cash responded,
“That’s smart! I honestly don’t think any of the men [journalists] would have gotten that. Interiors was an interior record but I was a lot younger and I could only go so deep. I hope [She Remembers Everything] is not a bookend. I hope it’s the opening of a new door. My youngest kid went off to college when I was making the record, so I don’t get up at 6:30 a.m. to get him to school anymore or try to be here when he gets home. I felt I could go a little further into madness when I didn’t have a child in the house to take care of. I could go into a dark place and stay there. I mean ‘My Least Favorite Life’ is like a nightmare, and in some ways the song ‘She Remembers Everything’ was a kind of letting go of the structure I had created for my life”.
‘Crossing to Jerusalem,’ written with her husband, John Leventhal, presents a marriage as a pilgrimage toward home, telescoping a long life together into brief verses:
“The birthdays and the babies/The bourbon and the tears/Roaring like a hurricane/Tearing up the years.”
…read the rest in Issue 92.