Rosanne Cash – Rules of Travel

On her latest studio album, “Rules of Travel” (Capitol Records) Rosanne Cash has definitely hit her stride as an artist. Singing with a new confidence and sense of maturity, she also seems ready to tackle such weighty issues as loss, regret and mortality.

Her latest effort finds the sultry singer moving away from late 70s/early 80s slick pop ballads towards more serious terrain – and it’s no surprise. Cash, the daughter of country “man in black” music legend Johnny, was watching her father live out the remaining few years of his life and like any good singer/songwriter she turned her experiences into an emotionally rich musical tableau.

Cash made the first step towards making a great come back album by getting a little help from friends and family. Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle and Johnny Cash all make wonderful and necessary contributions. In another bold step, she wastes no time by hitting on the theme of her album right off the bat.

The first track, which features Crow, is called “Beautiful Pain”. It’s a good meditation lyrically on that ability of a wounded heart to confuse pain and pleasure until they become one primal feeling.

The title track “Rules of Travel” is only one of many of Cash’s songs that deal with making a journey – perhaps even a last one. This one though keeps it light (in a perfect adult fm) sense. “Will You Remember Me” is almost hymn-like in its yearning spiritual quality. “As your airplane flies/Over foreign seas” go the lyrics and the singer seems almost desperate to remain in the memory of those near and dear – searching for some sort of immortality.

Perhaps the most stirring and emotionally resonant moment of the album comes halfway through the track “September When It Comes”. It’s almost a hushed lullaby of a song, but when Johnny Cash’s rough, slightly weary voice joins Rosanne’s whiskey-soaked vocals it’s pure magic – father to daughter and musicians to music-lovers.

Rosanne Cash originally climbed towards the top of the charts with her 1982 hit “Seven Year Ache” and while a few years may have gone by, she hasn’t quite solved all of her issues with men. A prime example is “I’ll Change For You” featuring the gravely-voiced outlaw cowboy Steve Earle. “I’ll Change For You / I don’t care what my friends say” pleads the singer as she chases another bad boy-type.

It’s an old school country duet with both promising to shape up before they get shipped out by the other. “Closer Than I Appear” finds all attempts at pleasing pushed aside. For those who loved the rocker that Rosanne was in the 1980s, this is your song. With an electronic pop arrangement and some sassy singing, the spunky crooner almost dares her lover to explore and uncover her heart and soul.

While “Rules of Travel” probably won’t set the charts on fire, it’s still a wonderful portrait of a grown woman on an emotional journey. In age when youth is overly prized, it’s refreshing to hear the songs of Rosanne Cash – a mature woman of strength and experience.

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