She Remembers Everything (Blue Note)
This is a trap I’m about to fall into, though of course I reckon I have a reasonable argument to make in doing so, but to see Rosanne Cash through the prism of her father is not just limiting but silly for an artist with a 40 year career of many highlights, a lifetime of activism and independent thought, and a presence as a significant cultural figure.
Knowing this, I will make one reference to Johnny Cash here to say that one of the things daughter and father have in common – in spades – is a natural dignity. That is, both a sense of self-without-neediness and a sense of strength-without-bluster. Importantly though, it’s a dignity that doesn’t preclude anger or despair, that doesn’t retain itself by avoidance, that doesn’t mistake gentleness for acquiescence.
On She Remembers Everything, Rosanne Cash looks at the past and the present – her own and the country around her – and shows the lessons learned along the way of her 63 years still have some application. She doesn’t necessarily give advice, though it’s available, but she does allow for example.
So we must understand that loves may not last through a lifetime, even if the goodwill is there (interestingly, her co-producer here is husband of more than 20 years, John Leventhal, who first worked with her in 1993); loss will come to you no matter how sturdy your parents or how youthful your children; respect will endure in person and nationally, even if the crass and the clumsy dominate at any one time; and connections can be maintained (for example Kris Kristofferson, whose Broken Freedom Song, provided her with her first lead vocal in 1974, appears here on one track), while faith is individual and malleable.
And amid all that, you can, you will, endure. Even in the ugliest moments, such as those related in 8 Gods Of Harlem, a story as American as baseball, mom and manifest destiny.
In this country rock drive which recalls peak Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cash, Kristofferson and Elvis Costello each offer a different perspective on another school shooting, joining together in the choruses with lines such as “We pray to the god of gunfire and regrets, we pray to the god of collateral children, we pray to them all, the eight gods of Harlem”.
There’s nothing overt about the messaging here; why would you need to? The stupidity and the futility do it themselves, the tragedy and pain are plain, leaving the three singers to blend in subtle shadings of observation and feeling.
There’s more ambiguity in the title track, which begins with Cash singing “Who knew who she used to be before it all went dark”. The nature of the life turn which preceded this is never explained, but no matter the cue for “the waking dream” (the line sung with Sam Phillips) within which she exists, the woman remembers everything, and you suspect, feels it all as much now as before.
But then “life is particle and wave”, which reflects and refracts everything, and while “we owe everything to this rainbow of suffering”, as Cash explains in Particle And Wave, it’s in our hands to change what we can and to accept some things, and some people, are beyond our reach.
It’s a sustained message, delivered without anything which feels like lecturing. But then the album overall sounds like something addressed with restraint. The production, shared between Leventhal and Tucker Martine, is something which will divide opinion, including mine, though overall the intent is clear.
Martine’s emphasis is on atmosphere over delineation and clarity, approaching a kind of Lanois-ish thickness out of which individual elements are subsumed to the whole. Mostly, Cash’s voice is the singular beacon on those songs. Leventhal’s approach is a bit lighter on mood and more simplicity in tone, the sound allowing instruments to emerge more clearly, while still keeping their place behind Cashs’ voice.
I lean more to Leventhal’s method on She Remembers Everything, but there’s something moodily appealing about the Martine-produced ones nonetheless, both approaches respectful of the intention behind Rosanne Cash’s songs. And the dignity.