Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Rosanne Cash.
Directed by Bill Pope.
(Sony Music Video Enterprises, black-and-white, 80 mins.).

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

As hereditary royalty, Rosanne Cash gets to sing country music her way. She's never hesitated to rev up her smokey vocals with pop-rock gloss, and while she's always focused on monogamy and its discontents, she avoids Nashville's pat resolutions. Her 1990 album, Interiors, is country only by association: the music is a classy Hollywood-studio blend, and the lyrics are a meditation on a marriage whose deep troubles by no means point to an inevitable end.

In a characteristic show of audacity, Cash declined to reproduce the recorded music of Interiors when she supported it with one of her rare tours. Instead she traveled with a guitarist and a bass player whose spare folk-country accompaniment forced her audiences to bear down on the words as hard as she always does. Already admirers of the album when we saw the show in New York, we walked out total converts, with a fresh appreciation not just of the new material but of such Cash standards as "Hold On" and "Seven Year Ache."

Unfortunately, the video version doesn't match our memories. While the choice of black-and-white is typically unconventional and appropriate, the camera fails to capture the intimacy that Cash creates with such ease when she's clicking. She brings on husband Rodney Crowell to back up "On the Surface," one of the darkest of Interiors's marriage songs, and the move itself is a coup. Here as elsewhere, however, the singing lacks the edge of intensity that in a show this subtle makes the difference between interesting and unforgettable. Ordinary Rosanne Cash is fine stuff--as a songwriter (and picker) she has few peers in any genre, and her smarts and concentration are always gratifying. But we'd hoped for more.

Video Review, Mar. 1991