From the Archives: this review first appeared on the old Skyscraper Magazine site in April 2010. It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.
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 freedom for openhearted, wide ranging conversation. 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, other Cash/Carter family members, her personal and career choices as well as her sometimes precarious kinship to country music. For those unfamiliar with the album, Cash’s The List (2009) 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 wasn’t 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 music in front of audiences. Streissguth goes deeper than most typical making-of bios and crafts a portrait signposting Cash’s personality, spirit and legacy.
“It’s part of a lexicon of American music, it’s a responsibility and an honor,” Cash explains during the second chapter of the book, referring to her translations of tunes by Hank Snow, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and others. 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 for classics and standards.
Along the way, Streissguth contextualizes Cash’s latest offering, showing philosophical and persistent links to previous long players like Rules of Travel (2003) and Black Cadillac (2006), which touch on universal subjects like grief, loss, affection and acceptance.
“I felt like I was planting seeds for the future, and at the same time reconnecting with the past,” Cash explains after a concert detailing the process of comprehensive correlation to Streissguth.
2009 was a boon for fans of Southern-inclined music what with Dylan’s Together Through Life, Steve Earle’s Townes Van Zandt memorial and a long player from Wilco. As Streissguth’s book makes plain, though, there’s no end to the meaningfulness of rediscovering what’s come before and creating contributions impacting coming generations.Visit: Rosanne Cash | Da Capo Press
Purchase: Powell’s Books | Amazon