The new album by Rosanne Cash is her eleventh studio release and her first in three years. The material was written during a two year period during which Rosanne lost her father Johnny, her mother Vivien Liberto, and her stepmother June Carter Cash. Rosanne says that some of these songs were written with a foreboding, some as an attempt to heal, some in anger, some in acceptance, and some in denial.
Yet though the genesis of the material is pain and loss, and though the lyrics do indeed reflect these emotions--powerfully so--Black Cadillac is no slow-tempo, quiet mediatation. Some of the album is that, to be sure, but Rosanne expresses her feelings with a variety of musical approaches, as different as her mixed emotions.
Songs at the beginning and end of the album use very brief vintage clips of tape with Johnny Cash coaxing Rosanne as a toddler to talk into the tape recorder. The album begins with Johnny asking her to say "come on" and towards the end, he's asking for a "bye bye." These are touching little domestic moments which help you keep in focus that this talented and beloved family in their public life were just another family in their private. And when Rosanne mourns the loss of Johnny Cash, it's not the music legend she grives for--it's her dad.
"Black Cadallac" is a song evoking images of Johnny Cash's funeral that is as dark as its title suggests. "Now one of us gets to go to heaven/One of us has to stay here in hell," she muses bitterly in the lyrics. And though the music is full of tension and dread, the soaring chorus--during which Rosanne sings "It's a lonely world"--sounds like an angry raging against an imperfect world.
"Radio Operator" is a terrific song, calling to mind young Johnny's experience stationed in Germany with the Air Force as a radio operator. Rosanne uses that communication metaphor to express her longing for further contact with her late father. "Radio operator, there are still messages to send," she sings, "From the future, from the present/And it never has to end."
Rosanne sings of Johnny and June Carter's home on Old Hickory Lake near Nashville in "House on the Lake." The pain of loss leads her to deny her faith in "World Without Sound," and also to point out that "God is in the roses, and the thorns" in "God Is in the Roses."
Despite the grief underpinning the album, Rosanne has stated that "Loss was a door to appreciation, and to a new sense of ancestry." Although some of her lyrics sound very bitter in her losses, she writes in "I Was Watching You" that "long after life, there is love."
Unlike 2003's Rules of Travel album, which was had some guest star duets on it, nothing distracts the listener from very personal Rosanne's words and music. Half of album was recorded in New York, produced and largely performed by her husband John Leventhal. The other half was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Bill Bottrell overseeing those sessions.
Not only is Black Cadillac the most meaningful album of Rosanne Cash's career, it has music to match her powerful words. Fans of Rules of Travel, should find this CD even better. It's a worthwhile addition to any music collection.