Rosanne Cash draws from the well — her dad’s textbook music list

Make no mistake, Rosanne Cash fully understands the value of the sheet of yellow lined paper her father handed to her one summer day in 1973.

Rosanne Cash i

Make no mistake, Rosanne Cash fully understands the value of the sheet of yellow lined paper her father handed to her one summer day in 1973.

Back then, she was 18, just graduated from high school, a daughter of divorce eager to spend time with her dad and learn the family business. She tagged along on a concert tour and talked music during the long bus rides. When Johnny Cash grew alarmed at the songs Rosanne didn’t know, he sat down with a pad and pen.

What he produced was a syllabus worthy of a master professor: Johnny Cash’s list of the “100 Essential Country Songs.”

Twelve of those songs make up The List, Cash’s new CD. Her first covers album includes duets with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright.

Cash had put the list away after learning many of the songs. She had her own path to forge. It was forgotten until she happened upon it late in 2005, while writing narrative portions of her Black Cadillac stage show. She talked about it during the concerts and fans would ask when she was going to record the songs. Her husband, music producer and guitarist John Leventhal, no doubt smiled.

“My husband has been telling me for 17 years, ‘Your voice is really well-suited to these songs,’ and I would go, ‘I’m a songwriter, I’m a songwriter,” she said. “Well, it turns out my voice really is well-suited to these songs.”

The disc showcases some of the best singing in Cash’s career, as she faces the challenge of carrying melodies other than her own and putting her stamp on songs already well known. The often spare arrangements also emphasize Leventhal’s guitar.

Cash begins with Miss the Mississippi and You, which the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers, recorded in 1932.

She ends with the Carter Family’s Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow, which always reminds Cash of her step-aunt Helen Carter, who taught her the guitar.

The disc’s emotional centrepiece is the heartbreak trio of Long Black Veil, a duet with Wilco’s Tweedy on a prisoner’s tale best known through Johnny Cash’s version; the Patsy Cline hit She’s Got You; and Bob Dylan’s Girl From the North Country, a composition that first intimidated Cash because she remembered her father singing it with Dylan on television.

The songs are some of the things that connect father and daughter and, Rosanne believed, it was time to claim the legacy.

“I don’t have that young person’s feeling of trying to get away from my ancestry and parents and what they passed on,” she said. “In fact, I want to embrace it, so I can show it and pass it along to my own (five) kids. It’s just unseemly at my age (54) to be doing that kind of ’chip on your shoulder’ rebellion.”

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