Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Record of the Month

I figured I'd do a monthly 'what I'm listening to' kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it's my blog! So there!

Ahhh...Don't say I didn't warn ya. You knew I went to her concert and I said I had one more 'covers' disk to review this year - and this is it.

Rosanne Cash's The List is it. And I dare say it has restored my faith in how a cover album should go. Somewhat. Clearly the exception and not the rule. But it's not the end-all, be-all either.

Her father compiled a list back in 1973 of the 100 essential country songs she needed to know, apparently when she had little knowledge of where she came from. This is only 12% of that list. 13% if you buy it on iTunes. But it's a start. Most of these songs have been recorded by dozens of artists over the years, but still I can't say they are popular. Not really. Maybe with certain crowds, but not the general record-buying public.

I will start out saying the selections she did live, some of them played out much better in a live setting than in a recording studio - and those live versions were way stripped down, just Cash and a guitar.

But on some of this disk - Cash appears stellar. Her voice, at 54, has never seemed stronger. And in reality, it is really nice to hear Cash return to her country-bent. She never was or will be full county but I've missed some of this take on her heritage and talents.

She kicks off with "Miss the Mississippi and You" - which hearkens back to something she'd have done on Somewhere in the Stars. "Motherless Children" is really stellar, but it doesn't sound nearly as sorrowful as she did it live. Still, she nails it....if you can say that about a song like this. "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow" is very well done - and is still pretty sparse musically, but you can see what a well crafted song it was for the Carter Family.

Cash does a pretty incredible job on Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On" - and it might be the best piece on the disk. Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" (great string bass line throughout the song) is well done too. She does a decent job on "500 Miles". It is poignant enough, but it doesn't convey the emotion that it did when she did it live or even when Peter, Paul & Mary or Bobby Bare recorded it.

Usually when guests abound on a record, it spells trouble for the material or artist. Especially when it's an over-use of guests (like almost happened on Cash's own Rules of Travel). Because of this, I was skeptical with The List in advance for having Springsteen, Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and Neko Case all making appearances. Hell, that's almost half the disk.

Some work and some don't. Springsteen is by no means bad on "Sea of Heartbreak", but in reality, you hear how strong Cash is by herself, there was really zero need for Bruce to be there at all. But it's a great song and it really is a stand-out.

Wainwright on Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" is nothing more than a backing vocal, more so than harmony. I don't know I would have known it was him without the actual credit.

Tweedy has more of a harmony vocal "Long Black Veil". Ditto with Costello on Buck Owens' "Heartaches by the Number". See, I like Buck Owens and while it is probably the twangiest thing on this disk, I'm not sure they truly pull it off. She does better on Hank Williams' "Take These Chains from my Heart". It sounds almost like an Owen Bradley production deal.

There are missteps, if you ask me. Cash says she was skeptical to touch Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" - and she should have gone with her gut. While not horrid by any means, there is no one who can really cover that well, save maybe a Mandy Barnett - and even then it's more imitation.

The same can be said for "A Satisfied Mind" (available only on iTunes). Covered by everyone from Porter Waggoner to Lindsey Buckingham, it just sounds......under-done, if that makes sense. The right idea, the wrong execution.

Overall, The List is the right idea and right execution - mostly due to Cash's vocals and producer/husband's John Leventhal's production and musicianship. I guess Johnny Cash has a lot to do with this too.

Of all the music I've purchased this year, it is one of the better selections in terms of style and sound.

Just for fun, I'm posting the video to "I'm Moving On". I'm surprise that not only they still make videos, but that they spare the expense for a boutique artist like Cash.


cb said...

Someone been listening to NPR again....

Birdie said...

Yep, me too. But I discovered Tommy Emmanuel (Whoa! Guitar hero!) and Danny Gatton (whose CD is on its way) from there as well. Check 'em out.

Brettcajun said...

I love Roseanne Cash. My all time favorite song of hers is "7 Year Ache".