Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rosanne Cash

  • Right or Wrong [Columbia, 1979] B
  • Seven Year Ache [Columbia, 1981] B+
  • Somewhere in the Stars [Columbia, 1982] B+
  • Rhythm and Romance [Columbia, 1985] A-
  • King's Record Shop [Columbia, 1987] A-
  • Hits 1979-1989 [Columbia, 1989] A-
  • Interiors [Columbia, 1990] A-
  • The Wheel [Columbia, 1993] A-
  • 10 Song Demo [Capitol, 1996] **
  • Rules of Travel [Capitol, 2003] ***
  • The Very Best of Rosanne Cash [Columbia/Legacy, 2005] A
  • Black Cadillac [Capitol, 2006] **
  • The List [Manhattan, 2009] *
  • The River and the Thread [Blue Note, 2014] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Right or Wrong [Columbia, 1979]
Except for Bonnie Raitt, this is as good as the female-interpretive genre got in 1979: Cash is cool and feisty, and Rodney Crowell and Keith Sykes both find nice twists in the pains of love. But the session men sound so dead they gotta be trying. Is this some weird kind of El-Lay-goes-Nashville statement? Or just the end of an era? B

Seven Year Ache [Columbia, 1981]
It's a tribute to persistence of something-or-other that somebody should still be getting decent music out of the sterile studio-rock formula. What that something-or-other might be is perhaps indicated by the identity of the somebody, who is second-generation pro rather than a punk revoloo. B+

Somewhere in the Stars [Columbia, 1982]
That "Third Rate Romance" is the least impressive thing here is proof enough of Cash's continuing growth--"Third Rate Romance" is damn near impossible to ruin, and she doesn't come close. But since I was never much of a Ronstadtian myself, I can't quite make the leap from admiring the assured warmth and easy precision of Linda's de facto successor to inviting her over. B+

Rhythm and Romance [Columbia, 1985]
Nobody's going to mistake this one for a country record, not with Waddy Wachtel's hooks bobbing by like bull's eyes in a shooting gallery. But it's not just another compulsorily catchy stab at immortality either. Cash may have her eye on MTV, but she's a child of Nashville nevertheless--when she cheats she knows it's wrong even if she's got a right, and when she sings she hurts. A-

King's Record Shop [Columbia, 1987]
If I can't claim to find any special hope in this record, I'll settle for pleasure. The catchiness of Rodney Crowell's production would seem manipulative behind a shallower singer, but Cash--like fellow roots renegades Tina Turner and the Nevilles--has the stuff to imbue the arrangements with some self. It's perverse to complain about the programmatic "Rosie Strike Back"--a hard-hitting pop song for battered wives is a wondrous thing by definition. And her romances are truer than most. A-

Hits 1979-1989 [Columbia, 1989]
"Seven Year Ache," "Hold On," and "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me" announce themselves as classics every time. They're classic country, classic pop, classic Rosanne, and though she's the decade's premier interpretive singer, she wrote them all. Their only competition is a Tom Petty tune, which suggests something about her musical affinities. But I miss "Rosie Strike Back" and "The Real Me"--from a nonpop, noncountry, non-Tom Petty vantage the rest of these perfectly enjoyable selections seem half a touch too cute, languid, soft. And fairly depict the decade's premier interpretive singer nonetheless. A-

Interiors [Columbia, 1990]
With husband-producer Rodney Crowell down to "guest vocal," she's on her own. Not only is this the first time she's produced herself, it's the first time she wrote all the songs--only once before has she even come close. Musically it's singer-songwriter rock, though as always Cash redeems tasteful arrangements with high-quality melodies and intense vocal focus. But lyrically this prolonged meditation on a marriage in pain is country at its best, because country is marriage music and Cash knows the territory. Anger, fear, separation, transcendence, change--this woman has thought about the tough stuff. Most of the time she has as much to say as, to choose a random example, Woody Allen girding himself up for a big statement. And even when she's corny, her seriousness is so palpable that the emotional effort carries the songs. A-

The Wheel [Columbia, 1993]
Cash's literary ambitions would be hard on any singing songwriter, not just a country star with New York on her mind. So while these evocations, explorations, and other -ations of life and love a-borning are prim by good American-music standards of process and groove, give her credit for evoking and exploring like she means it, which has always been her strength. "I'm changing like a girl/On the threshold of her life/In love with the whole world," this thirtysomething sings, and you can feel it. A-

10 Song Demo [Capitol, 1996]
sin, sex, beauty, God--if she doesn't sing them all, she comes close ("The Summer I Read Colette," "Take My Body") **

Rules of Travel [Capitol, 2003]
glad she took Manhattan, wish her songwriting had stood in Nashville ("September When It Comes," "I'll Change for You") ***

The Very Best of Rosanne Cash [Columbia/Legacy, 2005]
Rosanne's Nashville-to-Manhattan career bifurcates so cleanly that you'd think skipping around between the halves would be a bad idea. But it's the opposite. She could always be formulaically chipper early and painstakingly cerebral late, only not here. Carefully folded together, nine pre-Interiors songs and seven post-Interiors songs feed off each other. Chipper-vs.-cerebral softens to chin-up-vs.-pensive; country soul proves no deeper than classic-pop warmth. A

Black Cadillac [Capitol, 2006]
Two mothers and one great big dad--that's too much death for two years ("House on the Lake," "Dreams Are Not My Home"). **

The List [Manhattan, 2009]
The songs her dad told her to master are too familiar, but give her time and she'll open most of them up pretty good ("Motherless Children," "I'm Movin' On"). *

The River and the Thread [Blue Note, 2014]
Melodies strong, vocals intent, arrangements deft, lyrics worked, impact minimal despite it all ("World of Strange Design," "50,000 Watts") *

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