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Rosanne Cash - She Remembers Everything Music Album Reviews

After reckoning with her father’s legacy on recent records, the singer offers a vivid, complex portrait of life and the compromises and love that shape adulthood.

Country music has a long memory. Decades after Hank Williams’ death, he remains shorthand for the music’s spirit, still cited in songs that have no resemblance to his honky- tonk fare. Williams isn’t the only figure whose myth casts a shadow over country. Johnny Cash pops up as a rebellious totem for mainstream country singers and remains a clear touchstone for alt-country troubadours such as Colter Wall. The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash never exactly ran away from her father—she covered his “Big River” on Right or Wrong, the 1980 LP that kicked off a decade of untouchable albums. But she strove to define herself independently, too. Throughout the 1980s, she threaded new wave and roots-rock into records targeted at the mainstream, then left Nashville behind entirely in the 1990s, striking up a creative and romantic relationship with John Leventhal and settling in New York City.

Cash didn’t begin reckoning with parts of her father’s musical legacy until after his 2003 death. Much of that process involved looking into the past. On 2009’s The List, she covered songs her father told her she needed to know by heart, like Harlan Howard’s country classic “Heartaches by the Number” and Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” On the Grammy-winning The River & the Thread five years later, she untangled her roots in the American South, delving into its myths and music; it was as immediate as anything she had ever made. With the new She Remembers Everything, Cash takes those lessons and applies them to the present, creating an album that addresses the turmoil of the moment by tying it into the past.

Working once again with Leventhal, Cash muddies up the clean lines of The River & the Thread, choosing atmosphere over grit. All the soft echoes and muffled rhythms are hazy, not dreamy. These subdued sonics suit a set of songs concerned with compromises, loss, and enduring love, the very things that shape adulthood. The women who narrate Cash’s songs here feel the weight of their previous decisions and look to their current situations with clarity. But She Remembers Everything isn’t a topical album: Cash casts her eye on the larger picture, how all these dashed dreams and small victories add up to make a life.

There are exceptions: On “8 Gods Of Harlem,” three chords punch through the album’s tasteful fog again and again to draw attention to muted but manifest anger. The song captures a school shooting through a trio of distinct perspectives: one written by Cash, one written by Kris Kristofferson, another by Elvis Costello. Each writer contributes a verse that pulses with their own lyrical rhythms. Cash emphasizes the pain of the mother, setting the scene in the street. Kristofferson breaks the spell with vulgar bluntness, countered by Costello’s florid summary of the aftermath. These varied approaches suggest that such violence is beyond one songwriter’s comprehension.

This is the only place on She Remembers Everything where Cash cedes the spotlight to another singer or deigns to be so direct. She doesn’t avoid collaborations; she co-wrote the title track with singer/songwriter Sam Phillips, penned several with Leventhal, and links with the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy for some harmonies. But these partnerships are part of the music’s fabric, not sparkling accoutrements. She Remembers Everything demands quiet contemplation. The hushed tones of opener “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” serve as an appropriate keynote for the album, its waves of reverb providing a shimmering counterpoint to Cash’s quiet, compelling presence. Amid these misty guitars and muffled rhythms, Cash wanders through the debris of a relationship, resolving that the love made the struggle worthwhile. This tension, residing within both the music and the mind, is apparent throughout She Remembers Everything.

The difficulty of maintaining relationships with the passing of age is a key theme for these 48 minutes. This isn’t limited to romantic partnerships. The stately “Everyone But Me” finds its narrator coming to terms with the absence of her departed parents. It’s a situation that shares similarities to Cash’s own story—and to that of many people, of course. Neither this, nor the stirring ode to the sustenance of long-term romance, “Not Many Miles To Go,” should be read as autobiography. Like “8 Gods Of Harlem” or any of these songs, these are short stories. She Remembers Everything is a collection of miniatures that collectively paint a vivid, haunting portrait of the blessings and bruises of life.

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