Rosanne Cash mines her own life in latest album and tour
She’s considered an essential part of American musical royalty, but she insists on carving her own path.
Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash, recently released a new album, “She Remembers Everything.” She is on tour performing songs from the record and makes her debut at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University on Feb. 2. She will appear with her husband and longtime musical collaborator, John Leventhal.
Before “She Remembers Everything” released in November, Cash’s last album was the Grammy-winning “The River & the Thread,” a 2014 recording that explored the American South and her own ties to the territory. “The River & the Thread” won three Grammy Awards, including Best Americana Album. Altogether, Cash has earned four Grammys, 15 Grammy nominations and has recorded 11 No. 1 singles.
“It was kind of the end of a trilogy of themed records,” she said in a phone interview from her home in New York City. “People were saying, ‘You really should do another themed record.’ I was resisting that with everything I had. I wanted to do the opposite of that. I wanted to do some really personal songwriting. I have more to say at this point in my life, and less time to say it.”
Cash, 63, was born in Memphis, Tenn. She and her three sisters were raised in Southern California (mostly Ventura) by their mother, Vivian Liberto Cash, who separated from Johnny Cash in the early 1960s and divorced in 1966.
After high school, Rosanne joined her father’s road show and occasionally performed with him and solo. She recorded her own, self-titled solo record in 1978 and released the country chart-topper and crossover hit “Seven Year Ache” in 1981.
While she was classified as a country artist in her early years, she would drift from that sound. She’s now considered more Americana, roots rock and folk.
In 2015, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and on Feb. 26, she will receive the 9th annual Visionary Leadership Award, which honors the late Jean M. Handley, the founding director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which takes place in New Haven, Conn.
“I feel a little awkward about it,” Cash said about the Visionary Leadership honor. “I don’t know if I’ve been a trailblazer in any way. It’s probably that I gave up a successful career in order to be a successful songwriter.”
She’s also a pretty successful author, penning four books and articles in The New York Times, Newsweek and Rolling Stone.
“She Remembers Everything” has a melancholic, reflective sound to it, exploring mortality, gun violence, memory and the kind of love that’s been tested by time and hardship.
“I was really attracted to Gothic feminine art. Those were my instincts,” she said. “There’s a lot of reckoning with mortality in this record.”
The song “8 Gods of Harlem” features Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson, who also helped write the lyrics. A lament about the effects of gun violence, “8 Gods” was inspired by a sad Latina whom Cash encountered on the subway. She thought she heard the woman sigh, “Ocho Dios.”
“She was very heavy-hearted, and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Cash said. “It’s about gun violence, obviously, and how that ripples out, not just in the immediate family, but to the world.
“I was thinking about separate gods for different parts of the city,” she continued. “I kind of got deep into the mythology and the gods, and the concepts of rebirth.”
Cash has been a longtime advocate of gun control, and that has occasionally put her at odds with country music fans and NRA supporters.
“As far as policy, I can refer you to a specific list,” she said. “We need background checks, closing gun-show loopholes. The [politicians] say it’s not a gun problem, it’s a mental health problem. Well, we need better health care for mental health patients. And it is a gun problem. No other developed nation has these mass shootings at schools. It does not have to be this way.”
Cash wrote many of the songs on the new album just as the #MeToo movement was spreading across the nation.
“I was feeling that,” she said, “that culturally, women’s memories are questioned and treated with suspicion. There was such a deep reception [to the movement] in the country. A lot of us spend our lives trying to repair, avoid and override trauma, and the rage and sense of loss that comes with that.”
The album’s title track, “She Remembers Everything,” is both a warning and an expression of love, Cash said.
“It’s a threat,” she said. “But it’s also about a woman who remembers everything about her partner. It can be really precious, and it’s a gift.”
Cash will mostly be performing songs from her latest album. On the Musco stage, it will just be her and Leventhal, who helped produce the record, co-wrote some of the songs and played a number of instruments in the studio.
“We’ve worked through a lot of our stuff at this point,” she said. “I honestly think that if we didn’t perform together — and we have for 25 years — we wouldn’t be together anymore. You can work stuff out that way. It’s romantic and incredibly satisfying.”
IF YOU GO
What: Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2
Where: Musco Center for the Arts, Chapman University, 415 N. Glassell St., Orange
Information: (844) OC-MUSCO (626-8726); muscocenter.org
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.