ALWAYS BEEN THERE: ROSANNE CASH, THE LIST, AND THE SPIRIT OF SOUTHERN MUSIC
By Michael Streissguth - Da Capo Press
When Rosanne Cash began working on her 2009 country covers album, The List, she gave veteran music writer Michael Streissguth unprecedented access to her recording world and the freedom for openhearted, wide ranging conversations. The result is Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music. Streissguth's remarkably detailed 222- page book uses a literate, storytelling mode to examine Cash's relationships with her famous father and other Cash/Carter family members, her personal and career choices and her sometimes precarious kinship to country music and her place in that continuum. For those unfamiliar with the album, Cash's The List is a 12-track record culled from a 100-song essential country music list Johnny Cash imparted to his then-teenage daughter in 1973. Cash's decision to produce a project based on that list was not an easy one and Streissguth intimately moves readers into the step-by-step undertaking: song selection, doing demos, meticulously reworking material and a brief but revealing European tour when Cash tried out the music in front of audiences. Streissguth goes deeper than most typical making-of bios and crafts a portrait that signposts Cash's personality, spirit and legacy (past, present and future).
During the second chapter, Cash explains her approach to translating tunes sung by Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and others, "It's part of a lexicon of American music, it's a responsibility and an honor." That sense of history and heritage permeates Always Been There and the importance of bringing pieces like "I'm Movin' On" and "Long Black Veil" to new listeners as well as fashioning a fresh framework to such classics and standards. Along the way, Streissguth puts Cash's latest offering into context with her earlier releases, showing the philosophical and persistent links to previous long players like Black Cadillac and Rules of Travel, which touched on universal subjects like grief, loss, affection and acceptance. At one point, after a concert in Berlin, Cash clarifies this process of comprehensive correlation to Streissguth, "I felt like I was planting seeds for the future, and at the same time reconnecting with the past." The year 2009 was a boon for fans of Southern-inclined music, what with Dylan's Together Through Life, Steve Earle's Townes Van Zandt memorial Townes and efforts from Wilco and likeminded Americana-linked artists. As Streissguth's book makes plain, there is no end to the meaningfulness of rediscovering what has come before and creating contributions that will have an impact on coming generations.
By Doug Simpson