Tuesday, April 10, 2007

“World Without Sound” / Rosanne Cash

I seriously dig this Black Cadillac CD. It’s Rosanne Cash’s breakthrough album, or at least the first one that registered on my music radar (I’ve read that she’s had a load of hit singles, but they must have been on the country charts – I sure never heard of them). Now, however, I’ve listened to Rules of Travel too and I realize I've underrated Rosanne – blame my knee-jerk prejudice against anybody who gets an easy “in” to The Biz through celebrity parents. (I’m still resisting her stepsister Carlene Carter, but that’s a whole other story….)

Black Cadillac had a natural PR hook – it’s Rosanne’s coming-to-terms with the loss of her parents (her stepmother June Carter Cash died in May 2003, her dad Johnny Cash just four months later in September 2003). But one of the strengths of this album is how deep down Cash digs with her songwriting. She refuses easy answers and cheap sentiments; it’s mournful but never whiny, and several songs – like this one – take the meditation on grief and loss further, describing how a surviving orphan reevaluates her universe. Anyone who’s lost a parent knows what that’s about.

Leading off with a boozy horn section riff, “World Without Sound” is one of the CD’s more uptempo tracks, a sort of Texas two-step that’s far less country than I expected – just like her dad, who was more of a rocker than he got credit for, Rosanne has shed those Nashville bonds. “But who do I believe / In this world without sound?” she wonders (“sound” being the essence of the two musicians’ souls), and her confident vocal makes it a real question, not a self-pitying complaint. “Who do I believe / Once they put you in the ground? / Who do I believe / When the night’s falling down?” Yes, she’s feeling lost, but instinctively I trust she’ll find her way – and I’m curious to see where she winds up.

The issue of faith clearly perplexes Rosanne (in another song on the album, she rejects “your tired religion” -- I’m guessing not all the Cash/Carter children see eye-to-eye on this question). On “World Without Sound” she gets right into it: “I wish I was a Christian / And knew what to believe / I could learn a lot of rules / To put my mind at ease” (hardly sounds like organized religion works for her, now does it?). The successive verses are all about exploring new reasons for living – wealth, friends and family, artistic success, politics. Of course, just about every one of these dreams has tempted me too. F’instance: “I wish I lived in Paris / And dreamed in French each night” (dig that tasty little sax fill there) “And had a dozen children / And raised them up just right.” She piques our interest, and then she pushes it too far, till the crazy hope deflates like a punctured party balloon. Frankly, she doesn’t hold out much hope for any of these fantasies. “I wish I was John Lennon / Free as a bird / And all of you who sit and stare / Would hang on my every word.” Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. That didn't even work for John Lennon.

So there’s no magic answer . . . unless it’s the quest itself that gives life meaning. After all, she’s already filling that “world without sound” with her own sound, and a fine sound it is, too. So this is Rosanne Cash, hunh? Maybe talent does run in families.

World Without Sound sample

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