DIARY - 17 OCTOBER 2009 - ROSANNE CASH CD REVIEW
THE LIST (MANHATTAN-EMI)
CASH, CARTER AND THANKS TO HANKS
Cash decided to honour her late father she didn't mine another album of
covers of the famed late man in black.
Instead she revisited a collection of 100 classic songs that he compiled
for her when she was 18 in 1973.
Now, after 36 years as a songwriter, she trimmed it to a dozen recorded
with her second singing spouse John Leventhal.
Leventhal, former writing partner of her first husband Rodney Crowell,
long ago took over production reigns from the Texan born troubadour.
He also plays guitar, bass, organ, mandolin, dobro, Wurlitzer piano, harmonium
and percussion on the successor to Black Cadillac (2006) - the
first disc Cash made since surgery in 2007 for a benign brain condition.
So it's fitting she bookends her 14th album this with songs by pioneers
- Miss The Mississippi And You (penned by William Heagney aka Halley
and recorded by Jimmie Rodgers) and Carter Family finale Bury me Under
The Weeping Willow.
Superb sequencing has her pathos-primed delivery of A P Carter's Motherless
Children - a public domain song - followed by a pair of songs made
famous by Hank Williams.
Sea Of Heartbreak - featuring fellow flame keeper Bruce Springsteen
- was penned by Hal David and Paul Hampton and scored airplay here for
But it was Hank who borrowed Take These Chains From My Heart from
his publisher Fred Rose and Hy Heath and made it his own.
HANKS - SNOW AND COCHRAN
another Hank (Snow) - once managed by Elvis Presley mogul Colonel Tom
Parker - provided I'm Moving On.
Harlan Howard's Heartaches By The Number - oft-cut pop hit
for Guy Mitchell and country smash for octogenarian Ray Price - she
uplifts another Elvis (Costello) as guest vocalist.
OK that's enough lineage and links - what does this sound like?
Well, at the ripe young age of 56, Rosanne's voice has none of the
wear and tear of her dad in his latter years.
And on classic leaving songs - Hedy West train tune 500 Miles
(popularised by Bobby Bare) and Merle Haggard's historic plane project
Silver Wings with Rufus Wainwright - her vocals drives a vibrant
Chelsea Crowell also adds harmonies to 500 Miles.
It's no surprise she leads Jeff Tweedy into every valley of sorrow in
the Long Black Veil - the Danny Dill-Marijohn Wilkin tale of a
woman who visits the grave of a man convicted of murder who takes his
cheating secret to the gallows rather than expose her.
She jangles another type of love triangle in Hank Cochran's She's Got
You - an historic hit for Jim Reeves-Patsy Cline.
the peak may be her treatment of Girl From The North Country
- the revolutionary country folk nuptials performed by the Cash
patriarch and Bob Dylan in February 1969.
roots date back to when Cash performed on the famed Music City recording
sessions for Dylan's ninth studio album Nashville Skyline.
Cash, like Steve Earle, may have retreated from Nashville to New
York but proves she is closer to the genre's musical roots than
Leventhal recruited drummers Joe Bonadio and Shawn Pelton, upright
bassists Tim Luntzel and Zev Katz and fiddlers Larry Campbell and
Jenny Scheinman to flesh out the disc.
is a worthy custodian and keeper of the flame of the richest genre
of our times.
Here she details the history of the songs from a list given to her
36 years ago when she was more a pop and rock fan.
REACHES TO SONG ROOTS
MISSISSIPPI AND YOU (Billy Halley)
Jimmie Rodgers, known as The Singing Brakeman, was the founding father
of country music.
Born in 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi, Rodgers wrote many of his most
famous songs including Blue Yodel, Waiting for a Train and Any
Miss the Mississippi and You was penned by little-remembered Billy
Halley -not to be confused with Bill Haley of Rock Around the Clock
Rodgers contracted tuberculosis in his twenties and sang of his condition
on a 1931 recording, T.B. Blues. But the demands of his occupations
- first as a railroad worker, then as a travelling entertainer and recording
artist - rarely if ever allowed him the rest and care he needed to recover
from the disease. In Rodgers' rendition, these real-life circumstances
add greater poignancy to Halley's song:
wide world over
Always alone and blue, so blue
I am sad and weary, longing to go home
Yes, I miss the Mississippi and you
Jimmie Rodgers had less than a year to live when he recorded Miss the
Mississippi and You in New York on August 29, 1932 with a country/jazz
band that included two fiddles, guitar, piano, and clarinet. The song
was issued on the Victor label on December 2, 1932; Rodgers died May 26,
1933 at the age of 35.
CHILDREN (Public Domain, arranged by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal)
Motherless Children was the blues before there was The Blues: a
song that powerfully expressed the emotions of the blues but predates
the codification of the twelve-bar blues form. In most versions, including
the present recording, Motherless Children is sung in an A-A-B-A
form but does not change chords in the familiar blues pattern.
We don't know who, if anyone, wrote Motherless Children but it
has been recorded by innumerable artists including the Carter Family in
1929. Lesley Riddle, a black blues singer and guitarist, accompanied A.P.
Carter on several of the latter's song-collecting forays - and it's likely
that Riddle was the source of Carter Family songs like Cannonball Blues
and Motherless Children.
By the late Twenties, Motherless Children was well established
in the repertoire of both white and black musicians. Blind Willie Johnson's
haunting version from 1927 (mislabelled Mother's Children Have a Hard
Time) inspired both Eric Clapton's 1974 recording on his best-selling
album 461 Ocean Boulevard and the Steve Miller Band's weirdly atmospheric
rendition on Your Saving Grace (1968).
SEA OF HEARTBREAK (Hal David & Paul Hampton)
In a tribute from the Country Music Hall of Fame, Stacey Wolfe wrote that
"Don Gibson (1928-2003) was responsible for writing at least three
of the most famous songs in country music history, for helping to define
the sound and studio style of modern country music, and for releasing
more than eighty charted records between 1956 and 1980."
Gibson's remarkable track record makes it ironic he didn't write Sea
of Heartbreak - a No. 2 Country and No. 21 Pop charter, and the second-biggest
pop crossover hit of his long career (after Oh Lonesome Me). The
song was not a product of Nashville's Music Row in Nashville but the work
of New York pop lyricist Hal David (stepping out from his legendary partnership
with Burt Bacharach, inaugurated in 1956) and a far less-renowned co-writer,
CHAINS FROM MY HEART (Fred Rose & Hy Heath)
On Sept. 23, 1952, Take These Chains from My Heart became the last
song ever recorded by Hank Williams. "Unlike some of Fred Rose's
songs, this was one that Hank might well have written, and he made it
into one of his finest performances," wrote Colin Escott. "As
the final note faded, Hank Williams' recording career ended." Williams
died January 1, 1953, and Escott notes that "after Your Cheatin'
Heart b/w Kaw-Liga descended the charts, Take These Chains From
My Heart was the last song of any quality' that MGM had left in the
vaults. It was released on April 24, 1953, and became Hank Williams' last
Number One hit on June 6."
A decade later, Ray Charles scored a No. 8 Pop hit with his version of
Take These Chains From My Heart when it was released as a single
from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2 - Ray's second
No. 1 album of country material.
ON (Hank Snow)
In March 1950, Hank Snow was a 35-year-old country singer with just one
Top Ten hit (Marriage Vow) to his credit after 14 years as an RCA
Victor recording artist. Although he enjoyed consistent popularity as
a live performer, Snow was in danger of losing both his record deal and
his radio exposure on the Grand Ole Opry when he entered a Nashville recording
studio for one more shot at the gold record ring. Snow thought he had
a song to match the occasion, a jaunty kiss-off to a former lover entitled
I'm Movin' On.
Released in May 1950, I'm Movin' On began a 44-week chart run in
June and became the first of Hank Snow's seven No. 1 Country hits, holding
down the top spot for an astonishing 21 weeks. The song saved Hank's record
contract (he remained an RCA artist for the next 35 years) and his position
with the Opry. It also inspired some 60 cover versions, from a contemporaneous
parody by Homer & Jethro to a version cut by contemporary roots-rocker
Chuck Profit in 2007 for a Jack Daniel's/NASCAR TV commercial.
Ray Charles' soulful rendition made No. 11 R&B/No. 40 Pop in 1959,
and jazz organist Jimmy Smith made I'm Movin' On the title song
of a 1963 Blue Note album. In a March 1965 concert in Middlesex,
England, the Rolling Stones transformed I'm Movin' On into pure
rock and roll with the addition of Brian Jones' shimmering slide guitar,
Charlie Watt's locomotive drumming, and the ambient screams of hundreds
of hysterical female fans. The tumultuous live recording was included
on the Stones' U.S. LP December's Children (And Everybody's).
BY THE NUMBER (Harlan Howard)
One of most gifted and most successful songwriters in the history of country
music, Harlan Howard was born September 8, 1927 to Appalachian migrant
parents so poor they couldn't afford to raise him (the boy grew up living
with a series of foster families in rural Michigan). At seventeen, Harlan
enlisted in the Army where fellow soldiers taught him a few basic chords
on a borrowed guitar during paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
"I got two hit titles out of the Army," Howard told author Nicholas
Dawidoff, decades later. Heartaches By the Number, because everything
in the Army is by the number, and I turned 'above and beyond the call
of duty' into Above and Beyond the Call of Love. You take things
that are part of your life and turn 'em into love songs.' All quotes taken
from In The Country of Country: People and Places in American Music
by Nicholas Dawidoff, published 1997 by Pantheon Books.
A former roommate of Hank Williams, Ray Price had scored his first No.
1 country hit in July 1956 with Crazy Arms. Howard sent him three
songs, one of which was Heartaches by the Number.
By late 1959, Price's recording of the song was still hanging on the country
chart (having peaked at No. 2) while Guy Mitchell's version reached No.
1 on the pop Hot 100. Harlan Howard was "the only forklift driver
in America who could switch on his car radio during the drive home from
work, press all five preset station buttons, and hear a song he'd written
playing on every one."
500 Miles is one of those songs that have been performed so many
times and for so many years that one might expect it to be credited as
'Traditional,' perhaps with an arranger credit added. But in fact most
recordings rightly credit a real person, Hedy West, as the composer of
The first recording of 500 Miles was not by its composer but by
the Journeymen on their 1961 Capitol album, The Journeymen Sing American
Ballads. This little-remembered folk-revival trio included Mamas &
Papas founder John Phillips and Scott McKenzie of future San Francisco
(Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) fame. On 500 Miles,
writer/researcher Jim Nolan notes, "Phillips claimed a co-copyright
for a song that he amended slightly but did not actually write."
Almost simultaneously, 500 Miles was recorded by the Chad Mitchell
Trio, the Kingston Trio, and the Brothers Four.
In 1963, the folk-influenced country singer Bobby Bare scored one of the
biggest crossover hits of his career with his version of 500 Miles,
which breached the Top Ten on both the Pop and Country charts. This time,
the co-writing credits (for Bare and fiddler Curley Williams, along with
Hedy West) were somewhat justified by the extensively rewritten lyrics
and Bare's spoken-word interlude.
VEIL (Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill)
Nashville songwriters Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill composed Long
Black Veil in 1959 - yet its language, imagery, and atmosphere could
be those of a century-old folk ballad. Accused of a murder 'on a cold
dark night 'neath the town hall light,' the narrator can't bear to reveal
The judge said, 'Son, what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die.'
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
For I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife...
After the accused is hanged for a crime he didn't commit, his lover keeps
his memory alive:
She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees,
Nobody knows but me
Wilkin and Dill cited various inspirations for Long Black Veil,
including Red Foley' recording of God Walks These Hills With Me;
and the legend of The Lady in Black, the veiled woman who for decades
visited Rudolph Valentino's grave on August 23, the anniversary of his
death. Or perhaps the song was the writers' response to the incipient
folk revival: The Kingston Trio's Tom Dooley was the No. 1 record
of 1958, and the following year eighteen-year-old Joan Baez made her first
appearance at the Newport Folk Festival.
Marijohn Wilkin had earlier arranged a date to pitch new songs to country
singer Lefty Frizzell on March 3, 1959 and brought The Long Black Veil
to the meeting just hours after its completion. Frizzell recorded
the song for Columbia on the very same day; released as a single, it peaked
at No. 6 on the country chart and established a new folk-oriented style
for a singer previously renown for his hardcore honky-tonk songs.
Long Black Veil became a standard of the music later dubbed Americana.
Johnny Cash first cut Long Black Veil for the 1965 album Orange
Blossom Special. He reprised the song in countless live performances
- most famously on his definitive live album of 1968, Johnny Cash At
Folsom Prison, and later in a duet with Joni Mitchell on his ABC network
GOT YOU (Hank Cochran)
It wasn't her first hit - that was Walking After Midnight (No.
2 Country/No. 12 Pop in 1957). It wasn't her most famous song - that was
Crazy by Willie Nelson, from 1961, one of the most-played records
in American jukebox history. But there is something about Hank Cochran's
She's Got You that is the quintessence of the art of Patsy Cline.
It may be the subtle shifts from major to minor, the way her voice moves
from its moody lower register to the pained yet somehow defiant high notes,
or Cochran's enumeration of the once-treasured objects (photographs,
record albums) whose meaning is transformed after love has gone. She's
Got You is a classic performance.
"Patsy liked songwriters,' legendary tunesmith Harlan Howard recalls.
"Patsy loved Hank Cochran, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis,
and me because we were light-hearted, not too serious. All of us were
always getting divorced because you can't be at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
every night missing dinner and stay married."
THE NORTH COUNTRY (Bob Dylan)
We'll probably never know just whom Bob Dylan had in mind when he wrote
Girl From The North Country in late 1962:
If you're travellin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there,
For she once was a true love of mine...
One claimant is Echo Helstrom, Dylan's high school sweetheart in Hibbing,
Minnesota when he was still Robert Zimmerman. Another is Bonnie Beecher,
the singer's girlfriend during his brief tenure at the University of Minnesota
in Minneapolis, who later became an actress and the paramour of Hugh Romney
a/k/a Wavy Gravy of Woodstock Festival fame. In his detailed Dylan song
study Revolution In The Air, Clinton Heylin notes that during live
performances in 1978 Dylan variously introduced Girl From The North
Country as a song about "a girl who left me to be a movie star,"
"the first girl that ever broke my heart and left me for an older
man," and "the first girl I ever loved, who is here in the house
Dylan's lyrical refrain of "Remember me to one who lives there/she
once was a true love of mine" was taken directly from Scarborough
Fair. Simon & Garfunkel sang the same words on their version of
Scarborough Fair, from the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary
In February 1969, Johnny Cash joined the Nashville recording sessions
for Bob Dylan's ninth studio album Nashville Skyline.
A marathon of duet recordings ensued - including attempts at I Walk the
Line, One Too Many Mornings and You Are My Sunshine, among many
other titles - but only Girl From The North Country made the final
cut. It became the lead track on Nashville Skyline, and Cash's
free-verse poem, 'Of Bob Dylan,' served as the album's liner notes
later winning a Grammy Award for the author.
WINGS (Merle Haggard)
In the five years spanning 1965-1970, Merle Haggard placed thirteen songs
in the Top Five of the Billboard country singles chart. Silver Wings
wasn't one of them - in fact, the song wasn't even released as a single.
But this poignant mid-tempo song of lost love, with its indelible melody
and dark-toned string arrangement, would become a perennial favourite
of the artist and his fans. To quote a later Hag album title, Silver Wings
is one of those 'songs I'll always sing.'
Silver Wings first appeared on the 1969 Capitol album, A Portrait
of Merle Haggard. One of six full-length discs he released that year,
Portrait "captured Hag when his gifts as a singer and songwriter
were at their peak," wrote critic Mark Deming.
"Three of Haggard's finest songs appear on this set - Silver Wings,
Hungry Eyes and Workin' Man Blues - and most country artists
would be happy to cut three tunes this strong during the course of their
Bluegrass veteran Earl Scruggs was among the first to cover Silver
Wings, on his 1972 album I Saw the Light with Some Help from My
Friends. As for the song's composer, he's returned to Silver Wings
repeatedly over the decades, including it on several live albums and
numerous compilations. In 1999, Merle Haggard recorded yet another Silver
Wings - this time as a duet with pop star Jewel - for the two-CD retrospective
For the Record: 43 Legendary Hits.
UNDER THE WEEPING WILLOW (A.P. Carter)
The Carter Family was the First Family of country music, and Alvin Pleasant
'A.P.' Carter was its patriarch and driving force.
Born in 1891 in Maces Spring, Virginia, he grew up hearing traditional
songs sung by his mother, Molly Bays Carter. By 1915, when A.P. married
Sara Elizabeth Dougherty born 1898 in Copper Creek, Virginia, he'd been
travelling the South and collecting songs for a decade or more.
According to legend, A.P. was wandering through Wise County, Virginia
and heard his future bride singing Engine 143. The original Carter
Family was comprised of A.P., Sara, and Sara's first cousin Maybelle Addington
On August 1, 1927, in a converted furniture store at 408 State Street,
the Carter Family played its first recording session - and Bury Me
Under The Weeping Willow was the first of six songs recorded that
day. In his liner notes for The Bristol Sessions Country Music Foundation,
1987, author and researcher Charles Wolfe describes it as simply "a
nineteenth-century song widely known in the mountains."
But like the other titles chosen by the Carters for that historic first
session, Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow "showcased the clear,
unrefined conviction in Sara's singing," notes Nicholas Dawidoff.
"When she sang about abandoned children who 'once had Mother's hand
to smooth their golden curls,' her sincerity was obvious and even if you
didn't known that she had been orphaned herself, the effect was very moving."
Maybelle Carter's future son-in-law Johnny Cash later wrote: "If
you listen to the early hillbilly recordings, basically you find that
the singers were barely singing over the instruments. The Carter style
was built around the vocals and incorporated them into the instrumental
background, usually made up of the basic three-chord structure In essence,
the Carter Family violated the main traditions of vocal and instrumental
music, but in doing so created a whole new style and a whole new sound."
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