Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rosanne Cash, Part One

The fact that Rosanne Cash is a member of country music’s most beloved family cannot be escaped, but the fact that her estimable career is based on her own incredible talent cannot be disputed.

While I’ve always known Johnny Cash’s name, I’ve also known Rosanne Cash’s name for as long as I can remember. And while I surely love Johnny Cash’s music, I connect to Rosanne Cash’s music on a different kind of guttural level.

I admire all of Cash’s illustrious career and respect her most commercially successful era, but it turns out that the songs that most resonate with me are from the last twenty years.

In this less commercially lucrative, though at least as equally critically acclaimed part of her career, Cash’s warm voice is as rich as ever and her introspective lyrics are full of perspective and maturity. Further more, John Leventhal’s timeless production choices perfectly compliment her deeply felt lyrics.

ROdney Crowell Diamonds and Dirt

#25
“It’s Such a Small World (with Rodney Crowell)”
Diamonds and Dirt, 1988

This number one hit for Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash is a wonderful blend of two distinct voices to make a fine country classic.

Dan Zanes and Friends Family Dance

#24
“Fooba Wooba John”
Family Dance, 2002

“Fooba Wooba John” is a silly song, because it’s from an album of songs for children. Dan Zanes is primarily a children’s singer who can also be enjoyed by adults and he shows his good sense by inviting Cash to be a guest singer on one of his delightfully silly songs. It’s fun to hear her being silly.

#23
“I Was Watching You”
Black Cadillac, 2005

This meaningful song starts with Cash’s perspective of watching her father from above before she was born, and circles to her belief that her father is watching her from above now that he has passed.

Rosanne Cash The List

#22
“I’m Movin’ On”
The List, 2009

From her covers album based on a list of 100 essential songs that her father had given her when she was 18, Cash reinterprets Hank Snow’s fast paced break up/road song by turning it into a slow burning indictment. She makes this classic her own by redacting parts of the song and considerably slowing the pace, which puts a sharper focus on the lyrics.

Rosanne Cash Rules of Travel

#21
“Will You Remember Me”
Rules of Travel, 2003

“Will You Remember Me” expresses the relatable sentiment of wondering if we’ll be remembered after we’re gone, whether from this life or particular people’s lives.

Rosanne Cash the River & the Thread

#20
“A Feather’s Not a Bird”
The River and the Thread, 2014

This song, from which the album’s title is inspired, is from Cash’s first album of original material in eight years. The album is propelled by trips to the south that allowed her to reflect on her family heritage and write about it. Just as a feather is not a bird, Rosanne Cash’s family name is not all that she is, but she gracefully acknowledges that it is a distinctive part that runs through her.

Kindred Spirits Tribute to Johnny Cash

#19
“I Still Miss Someone”
Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash, 2002

It’s interesting to hear Rosanne’s sublime voice sing a song that her father’s deep voice famously sang. While she doesn’t drastically stray from the tenants of the original, she can’t help but make the song her own.

#18
“Radio Operator”
Black Cadillac, 2005

It’s not typical of Rosanne’s music, but this song’s production chugs along similarly to her father’s signature sound.
Rosanne Cash Rules of Travel

#17
“Three Steps Down” (with Teddy Thompson)
Rules of Travel, 2003

Teddy Thompson harmonizes nicely with Cash on this John Leventhal/Marc Cohn composition. Also, I’m a sucker for drum brushes.

Rosanne Cash the River & the Thread

#16
“The Sunken Lands”
The River and the Thread, 2014

Supported by a cool guitar riff and mandolin fills, Cash wrote this inspiring song about her grandmother who worked hard through many hardships in the sunken lands of the south.

Rosanne Cash Ten Song Demo

#15
“List of Burdens”
10 Song Demo, 1996

Cash is always great with perceptive lyrics, but “Don’t put my love on your list of burdens” is such a concise and sad thing to have to convey.

Rosanne Cash The List

#14
“She’s Got You”
The List, 2009

“She’s Got You” has been my favorite Patsy Cline song from the first time that I heard it as a 12-year-old kid listening to Patsy Cline’s 12 Greatest Hits cassette in my parents’ living room. Cash does a wonderful job of revitalizing the classic.

kin rodney crowell mary karr

#13
“Sister, Oh Sister”
Kin: Songs of Mary Carr and Rodney Crowell, 2012

From the album of vibrant songs written by Rodney Crowell and author, Mary Carr, Rosanne Cash and Chely Wright sing of a spirited older sister who was fiercely protective of her little sister and the unbreakable bond that they developed as a result.

Rosanne Cash the River & the Thread

#12
“Etta’s Tune”
The River and the Thread, 2014

This is a gorgeous song inspired by conversations that Rosanne had with the seemingly long-suffering widow of Johnny Cash’s bass player, Marshall Grant.

Rosanne Cash Ten Song Demo

#11
“If I Were a Man”
Ten Song Demo, 1996

From the title of the song, it’s easy to assume that this might be a feminist takedown. Instead, this waltz details what she would do if she were one of the many elements in her life that she can’t actually control, including imagining how she would treat herself if she were a man.

Rosanne Cash Land of Dreams

#10
“Land of Dreams”
Land of Dreams, 2012

Cash was commissioned by Brand USA to write a song for advertisements to promote foreign tourism to the United States. Thanks to its hooky melody and inviting lyrics, the song feels inspiring and even stirs up feelings of patriotism.

Unbroken Circle Musical Heritage of the Carter Family

#9
“The Winding Stream”
The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family, 2004

Simply put, hearing Rosanne Cash sing this Carter Family classic is deeply satisfying.

Rosanne Cash the River & the Thread

#8
“When the Master Calls the Roll”
The River and the Thread, 2014

As can only happen in the entertainment business, Cash wrote this beautiful Civil War inspired song with her husband, John Leventhal, and her former husband, Rodney Crowell. With a gospel feel, it tells of two lovers who were divided in this life, but able to be together again after death.

Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache

#7
“Seven Year Ache”
Seven Year Ache, 1981

For the longest time, this is the song that I most associated with Rosanne Cash. It’s a classic for good reason!

Rosanne Cash The List

#6
“Motherless Children”
The List, 2009

On my favorite covers album, Cash offers a wonderful rendering of this ominous traditional heartbreaker.

Rosanne Cash Ten Song Demo

#5
“Price of Temptation”
Ten Song Demo, 1996

I love this album of sparsely produced, lyrically poignant songs. Supported by a piano-driven production, this is another song that explores the consequences and regrets of giving into temptation.

Vince Gill The Things That Matter

#4
“If It Weren’t for Him” (with Vince Gill)
The Things that Matter, 1987

In this song of unattainable love, Rosanne Cash’s and Vince Gill’s voices mesh together like comfortable old friends.

Rosanne Cash the River & the Thread

#3
“50 Thousand Watts”
The River and the Thread, 2014

With its irresistible throwback sound, “50 Thousand Watts” is inspired by the historic Memphis radio station, WDIA, which was the first radio station to be entirely programmed for African Americans.

Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

#2
“Tennessee Flat Top Box”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

It’s not often that somebody superiorly covers a Johnny Cash song, but Rosanne manages to do just that. She makes “Tennessee Flat Top Box” a joyful toe tapper by breathing new refreshing life into the song.

Rosanne Cash Rules of Travel

#1
“September When It Comes” (with Johnny Cash)
Rules of Travel, 2003

“September When It Comes” is hauntingly prophetic, a fact that I can’t get over no matter how many times I’ve heard this masterpiece. It’s a sweet, cathartic and, sometimes, difficult chronicle of their changing relationship as father and daughter sing together of the elder Cash’s mortality.

It’s impossible to imagine what it must have felt like for both Rosanne and Johnny as they sang those words that Rosanne wrote years before, as Johnny’s health was quickly deteriorating.

To hear the larger than life Johnny Cash sing, “I cannot move a mountain now/ I can no longer run/ I cannot be who I was then/ In a way, I never was,” is enough to take anyone’s breath away.

Part Two of this feature will post later this week, featuring another writer’s picks for this artist.

10 Comments

  1. Great list, Leeann. I think my favorite is “Runaway Train”. The only Rosanne Cash album I have not gotten around to purchasing yet is 10 Song Demo, but looking at your list it would seem that I need to take care of that soon!

  2. Very good article and list. I agree that Rosanne Cash’s best work has been done in the last couple of decades I think the same is true about Rodney Crowell- both of the have made some of the finest country albums of the 21st century, for my money. Their more commercially successful stuff from the 80s is good, but lacks the depth and maturity of their more recent records.

    I would have more Black Cadillac songs on my list, but I’m probably personally biased toward that album, as it got me through a very difficult time in my life.

  3. I’ve long felt that perhaps because she is such a gifted songwriter, Rosanne Cash doesn’t get nearly enough credit as an interpreter of the compositions of others. And like her friend and source of inspiration, Emmylou Harris, she doesn’t restrict herself to country and folk covers; she’s often brought her gifts to pop, rock and R&B numbers, and even show tunes. Yes, she’s done terrific versions of Kris Kristofferson’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and Guy Clark’s “Better Days” and a half dozen or so numbers from the Carter Family and Johnny Cash catalogs, but she’s also covered and left her personal stamp on “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” from the Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, as well as Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” Ben E. King and The Drifters’ “I Count the Tears,” Etta James’s “Love Is Forever,” Elvis Costello’s “Our Little Angel,” The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” The Band’s “Unfaithful Servant,” Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home,” and Jesse Winchester’s “Biloxi.” And that’s only SOME of the songs by others that she has interpreted, and often made her own.

  4. 1. Blue Moon With Heartache
    2. Seven Year Ache
    3. Never Be You
    4. Runaway Train
    5. I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me

  5. I would much rather listen to Roseann Cash than Johnny Cash.
    My favorite song here is “Seven Year Ache”. I see that two comments here mention “Runaway Train”. I just found out a few days ago that it was solely written by John Stewart, a member of the Kingston Trio from 1961 until 1967. Another solo writing effort by Stewart was “Daydream Believer”, recorded by the Monkees, Anne Murray and others.

  6. Whoa, Bob. I know you’re not into the legends, but them are fightin’ words!:) I love their music for different reasons, but rest assured that I love Johnny Cash’s music. The reason that I haen’t done an FSBFA on him yet is that I have no idea how I could narrow him down to 25 songs. It was hard enough with Rosanne. Also, the idea of doing it has been too intimidating so far.

  7. I like much of her output and I loved The River and The Threat & Kings Record Shop albums, but my favorite single remains “No Memories Hangin’ Round” with Bobby Bare.

    Apparently then-husband Crowell planned to do the song with her, then decided it would work better with Bare. He was right

  8. I tried to like Rosanne Cash’s music, but I just couldn’t and I don’t think my musical experience has been tarnished.

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