In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Rosanne Cash, daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, has been putting out solo albums since 1978. Her work was widely lauded in the ’80s, starting with the commercial success of her 1981 album Seven Year Ache. In 1985, she won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” and 1987 saw the release of her landmark album King’s Record Shop. The ’90s were a quieter time for Cash, but she came roaring back in the 2000s, eventually recording The List, a selection of covers taken from a list of great American and country songs given to her by her father. She followed that with 2014’s The River and the Thread, which earned her three more Grammys, including Best Americana Album.
It would have been easy for her to have just followed in her father’s footsteps, copying his musical style, but Rosanne Cash found her own voice. She helped make cowpunk popular early in her career, and her music has evolved organically ever since. Now she stands as one of the leading artists in Americana. She records songs that speak to Southern sensibilities without restricting themselves to the trappings of modern country music. She left Nashville a long time ago to live in New York, and letting that expanded worldview influence her music makes her one of the champions of her chosen field.
Being Johnny Cash’s daughter meant she grew up steeped in country, folk, rock, blues, and gospel music. She continued to explore all these genres on her own. Someone with such a strong grasp on the history of American music would naturally have recorded quite a few covers. Here are five great ones.
Roseanne Cash – Hometown Blues (Tom Petty cover)
“Hometown Blues” is Rosanne Cash taking a stab at a straight-up rock song, covering Tom Petty and sounding every bit as authentic with it as she does with country. She plays this one straight, taking much the same approach as the original, but that’s a good thing. Cash proves with this early cut that she could play to just as many different audiences as her father.
Rosanne Cash – Tennessee Flat Top Box (Johnny Cash cover)
Speaking of Johnny, it was always going to be impossible for Rosanne to go her entire career without covering him at some point. When she did, she avoided the prison songs, the weepers, and the drinking songs; instead, she turned to “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” managing to improve on her dad’s version. She keeps his chugging sound, but just hearing the song from a woman’s point of view changes the experience, as if she was one of those girls left dreaming about that guitar-picker.
Rosanne Cash – Sea of Heartbreak (Don Gibson cover)
“Sea of Heartbreak” is one of the standouts from Cash’s cover album The List. She teams up with Bruce Springsteen for this one, delivering a duet slower than Don Gibson’s original. This one also features some haunting guitar work by her husband, John Leventhal, and the combined effect of the vocals, the leisurely pace, and the soulfulness of her husband’s playing make this one of more heartbreaking versions of this song to date.
Rosanne Cash – Take These Chains From My Heart (Hank Williams cover)
Any serious student of American music will eventually turn towards Hank Williams, and Rosanne is no exception. Another great track from The List, “Take These Chains From My Heart” finds Cash taking on perhaps the most legendary figure in country music and holding her own. Her recording of the classic gives it a little more room to breath, again letting her husband’s guitar work complement her vocals to great effect.
Rosanne Cash – Ode to Billie Joe (Bobbie Gentry cover)
The songs from The List came from Johnny’s personal list of important songs. Rosanne has introduced performances of “Ode to Billie Joe” by saying it would be on her own personal list if she made one. She strips this one down, accompanied only by a guitar, and lets the narrative of the song take center stage. One of the smartest moves an artist can make is knowing when less is more. Cash does that here, delivering the story of Billie Joe’s suicide simply, letting it linger in the listener’s mind long after the song is over.