The past few years, since the release of Rosanne
Cash's last album The Rules of Travel, have been hard ones for the
singer. Not only did she lose her legendary father (Johnny Cash died
in September 2003), she also lost her mother (Vivian Liberto Cash Distin),
her beloved step-mother (June Carter Cash) as well as a troubled step-sister (Rosie
Nix Adams). So it was a particularly dark period for one of the most
devastatingly introspective singer-songwriters in popular music.
These deaths cast a shadowy pall upon Cash's new album.
It is not exactly mournful but it does infuse the disk with a gravity and
introspection that reaches deep even for the artist behind arguably the most
poignant CD of the last decade -- the 1990 masterpiece Interiors.
Still, beyond just the sorrow this album throbs with love, passion, joy and
Perhaps inevitably, the album starts with her father's
voice, a disembodied Johnny urging her, "Rosanne, hey, come on..."
This stark moment segues into the title track, a surprisingly muscular
sounding guitar line over such heartfelt lines as "It was a black Cadillac
that took you away..." "It was a black Cadillac like you used to drive..."
However the song isn't in any way morbid, it is instead a loving tribute to
her father, complete with mariachi horns playing subtle tribute to Johnny
and June's landmark "Ring of Fire."
The album switches gears musically from the
rock-tinged "Radio Operator" to the implacably sad "House on the Lake."
There is great joy and reminiscence in "God Is in the Roses." And
Cash's lyrics are even more bitingly caustic than ever. Just look at
this couplet from the devastating "Like Fugitives" -- "It's a strange new
world we live in, where the church sends you to hell, and the lawyers get
the money for the lives they divide and sell." Then she is smart
enough to follow this with the almost upbeat escape of "Dreams Are Not My
The one tiny slip up in the album is still an amazing
song. "I Was Watching You" is a gorgeous meditation on the 50 years
Rosanne and Johnny had together, though musically, the song is just a hair
too reminiscent of Aimee Mann's "Wise Up." Which is certainly a great
tune to draw a comparison to, however Cash's music has always kind of stood
in it's own little world. The vocals and lyrics are so exceptional
(and the singing, by the way, is nothing like on Mann's track) that it is
almost disorienting that the piano run feels so familiar. However,
knowing Cash's stubborn artistic integrity I have no doubt that this was a
complete coincidence -- two brilliant singer songwriters sharing a flash of
So many artists become maudlin when looking at
mortality, but Cash will not stoop to such cheap emotionalism. The
songs of Black Cadillac have a lived-in, heartfelt familiarity, a
resignation, a deep memory of joy and a quiet, ever-bonding love. Sad,
yes, but in the way that life is sad -- this pulls the heartstrings because
life is sometimes tragic, not because a tragedy is necessary to make an
audience feel. In doing so, it becomes one of the most heartfelt
musical meditations on death since Lou Reed's Magic and Loss and Tom
Waits' Bone Machine over a decade ago. Maybe ever.
Many children of iconic parents struggle in
their shadow, however though she graciously pays tribute to the
people she loves here, Rosanne Cash is the rare example of a child who is
completely worthy of the name. In fact if you get technical, Rosanne's
voice is greatly superior to her father's and her talent of painting a
lyrical picture is even slightly better. This is not meant in any way
as a dismissal of Johnny's talent -- he was a brilliant artist -- this is
just an acknowledgement of the incredible talent of his oldest daughter.
Black Cadillac is yet another shining gem in the career of an artist who
has many of them in her back catalogue.