Rosanne Cash

Seven Year AcheSeven Year Ache
I Don't Know Why You Don't Want MeRhythm & Romance
I Want A CureInteriors
The WheelThe Wheel
September When It ComesRules Of Travel
The World UnseenBlack Cadillac
Sea Of HeartbreakThe List
Etta's TuneThe River And The Thread
Not Many Miles To GoShe Remembers Everything
Last Stop Before HomeRules Of Travel


Rosanne Cash playlist


Contributor: Carl Parker

Rosanne Cash occupies a singular place in modern music in being a scion of one of the Titans of 20th century music, yet managing to achieve both commercial and critical success on her own merits. While her commercial success has lessened in recent years, for Rosanne the critical acclaim continues. The commercial success is more modest, but she has said her current level is preferable to life under the microscope.

There are many other daughters and sons of famous musical parents who have tried to carve out a career in the music business. Some might be lucky enough to achieve brief success, but they then fade away becoming little more than a footnote in the parental story. It would be ridiculous to expect Rosanne to be able to match the success and have the same sort of influence as such a seminal figure as her father, but she has nonetheless demonstrated, over more than 40 years, the depth and breadth of her talent as a musician, songwriter and performer. She has additionally carved out a parallel career as a published writer.

You could argue that Jakob Dylan has achieved similar levels of success, but I’d argue in return that in going out under the name The Wallflowers he was shielded from the same level of scrutiny. By using her family name, Rosanne was a hostage to fortune and from time to time was bound to be compared with her father. Comparisons may be invidious but they are inevitable.

Rosanne can stand tall and be proud of her musical achievement. She emerged from the giant shadow cast by Johnny and established her own identity. Her music is very different from her father’s yet she also owes much to him.

Her career can roughly be divided into two parts – though the change was evolutionary rather than a sudden break. The difference being that Rosanne got greater control of the content of her albums as her career progressed, moving from the majority of songs on her albums being written by others, with two or three of her own, to one where all songs are either her own or co-writes.

She has released 14 studio albums. There are around half a dozen compilations but to date no official live recordings.

Having said that, in effect there are only 13 albums because her first, released in 1978 and simply titled Rosanne Cash, was on the Ariola label and it’s as rare as hen’s teeth in Europe and was never released in the US. I have searched online for streams but with no luck. I have never heard anything off it at all.

What that album did was to bring Rosanne to the attention of Columbia/CBS who signed her, leading to the release in 1980 of the album Right Or Wrong.

Three tracks off the Ariola release had been produced by Rodney Crowell and he took the producer’s chair for the whole of this album. In between making the two records, Rosanne and Rodney had got married. Rodney was a member of Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band but he left her in the early 80s to pursue his own solo career and to support Rosanne.


My first selection is the title track of her third album Seven Year Ache. Released in 1981, this was a big success, gathering a Gold record. The single made No.1 in the Country charts and got to No.22 on the Billboard chart. It also gained Rosanne her first Grammy nomination but she lost to Dolly Parton.

It was Rosanne’s own composition – telling of a woman’s doubts and fears while her husband is out hitting the bars. It’s a perfect example of something that particularly appeals to me – the yearning quality in her voice that appears in many of her songs. It tugs at my heart every time.

Seven Year Ache was packed with star names including Emmylou, Albert Lee, Ricky Skaggs and Booker T. Jones.


In 1982, Rosanne released her fourth album Somewhere In The Stars. Though it didn’t achieve the same level of success as Seven Year Ache it did contain a single, Ain’t No Money, which gave Rosanne another Grammy nomination. She lost out to Juice Newton, which obviously rankled because that rejection leads to my next song choice.

There was a three-year gap to the release of her next album Rhythm & Romance. This was the first album wherein she had written most of the songs. It included I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me which, although framed as a lover dealing with rejection, I have heard her tell that after the awards ceremony she went home and wrote this song.

This was another No.1 in the Country Charts and got to 16 in the Billboard charts and also resulted in another Grammy nomination. This time Rosanne won.

In the light of her subsequent Grammy win with this song, there is particular irony in the lines she wrote:

Just when I think that I can make it without you
You come around and say you want me now

This wasn’t to be Rosanne’s last Grammy, though the next one took some time to arrive despite numerous nominations.


Her next album King’s Record Shop came out two years later in 1987. In some respects, it seems a step backwards as Rosanne only has two solo writing credits and one co-write. In another respect it was a significant break. The cover image was not a posed studio portrait, but one of a very relaxed looking Rosanne leaning against a window in the porch of the eponymous shop. I only learned while researching this that it is a (pre-Photoshop) juxtaposition of two photos taken by her bass player Hank DeVito. She never posed for the photo in the doorway.

Being limited to 10 songs, means there is nothing here from that album.

It was another three years until her next album Interiors was released. By way of admission this is where I came in with Rosanne Cash.

This was a great place to enter her world because Interiors is solid gold. Great song follows great song. Everything was either her own or a co-write. It was, significantly, the first record she produced herself. It was her first masterpiece.

The cover art again signified the difference between what had gone before and what she presented now. Rosanne seen through a yellow filter, her gaze focussed on us through the camera lens.

There was a marked change in the lyrics. Rosanne was now embracing the political in songs like This World – a harrowing story of child abuse, but one that is unfortunately still all too familiar to us as these stories recur again and again, and the lessons that subsequent inquiries promise will be learned never are – while in Real Woman she rejects life in the public spotlight

I don’t want to be a star
I don’t want to talk through glass
I don’t want to check my appearance in your eyes
I don’t need a million bucks

My selection from this album is I Want A Cure. Although Rodney Crowell does provide some vocals on the album and has a co-writing credit, his role is minimal. This song hints at the troubles they were going through:

Love seems like a fancy theory
Fame a substitute for friends
Those who love can’t get near me
And those who don’t are moving in

One name, unnoticed by me in the credits at the time but soon to become very significant, was John Leventhal on guitar.

Just listen to the way Rosanne’s voice expresses her feelings of hurt when she reaches the chorus. Beautiful yet heartbreaking. I can listen to this again and again.


There was another three-year gap before Rosanne’s eighth studio album was released.

The Wheel came out in 1993 and is an album that looks two ways; back to the disintegration of her marriage and forward to her new relationship with John Leventhal. She and John are still together.

The looking back was in songs like Roses On The Fire …

I throw your roses in the fire
‘Cause I burn with pity and desire
I’ll be your vision dressed in black
Who won’t be back

The Wheel exemplifies change. There are a couple of things worth highlighting – Steuart Smith’s “amazing circular guitar” for which he receives special thanks and the middle-eight where Rosanne sings:

I’m not looking for your answers, Oh darling, don’t you see?
That just to know the question, Is good enough for me

It’s not so much the lyric as her vocal expression when she sings Just to know the question, Is good enough for me. It melts your heart. It’s one of my all-time favourite musical moments.

With respect to the guitar playing, some years back we saw Rosanne at The Union Chapel in London. When she came back for the encore she asked for requests. I shouted out for The Wheel. She replied “Great choice” but then pointed at John Leventhal and continued “but it would really piss him off”. They didn’t perform it.

This video for The Wheel is pretty crazy (which is saying something given the history of pop videos) as it is apparently based on the Tarot deck, according to comments. I’d blame the video director rather than Rosanne.

I love the whole album and I think, very much against the consensus, that it bettered Interiors. I recall reviews at the time not being so positive. I say it was her second masterpiece.

That was her last album for Columbia/CBS. She signed a deal with Capitol. There was another three-year gap before 10 Song Demo was released.

I’m conflicted with this album because while the songs are excellent, the album, as the title suggests, consists of demo recordings.

Rosanne took the demos to Capitol and an executive said the songs were great and didn’t need to be enhanced by any studio production. His sleeve note refers to their “simple naive feel” and “raw emotion”. While I don’t doubt his sincerity I completely disagree. I think the whole album would have been hugely enhanced by going into a studio with a band. I Want To Know, for one, cries out for a full band performance. There is still some lovely stuff on it, especially The Summer I Read Collette. That title may sound a little pretentious but the song is beautiful.

There may be some who agree with the executive and prefer the simplicity. I think that decision robbed us listeners of a great album, rather than the merely good one we got. The record company didn’t invest care nor time with the presentation of the packaging. The title and the cover art mumble “We don’t care, why should you?” given how little effort was put in. It wasn’t something that was going to arrest the casual buyer flicking through the new arrivals in their local record shop. Indeed, it didn’t strike a chord with the record buying public, being her first album since the one on Ariola not to hit any notable chart.

One song off 10 Song Demo, Western Wall, was rerecorded for her next album, Rules Of Travel, and it exemplifies exactly why the songs should have had a proper studio production. In terms of Rosanne’s performance there is little to choose between them but the overall sound of the second version is so much more solid, a sonically richer experience, far more satisfying to the listener. The sound fills the room. The demo version is comparatively weedy. Western Wall was also recorded by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, becoming the title track of their 1999 joint album.
Their version is also excellent.


A seven-year gap followed until Rules Of Travel was released. Part of the reason was a move from Nashville to New York. It marked a break from Nashville not just physically but in the way her music was changing.

This album is more like it. It prominently features on shared vocals Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle, Teddy Thompson and Johnny Cash.

I’ve selected two songs from this album. The one with her father simply can’t be ignored as it was one of his very last performances, but it is also a great song. It is eerily prescient being titled September When It Comes. Johnny died in the September of 2003, the year the album came out.

That year, my wife and I went on holiday to the US, touring the Deep South. On our first morning we came down to breakfast in our Atlanta Hotel and Johnny Cash was performing on the TV in the dining room. Minutes later we heard that he had died overnight.

As we toured, we had the radio on in the car and pretty much every other song was Johnny. Considering the breadth of his output, for the most part there were only about half a dozen songs but I still vividly remember hearing this song as I drove and when it got to Johnny singing –

I cannot move a mountain now
I can no longer run
I cannot be who I was then
In a way I never was

– I really choked up and had to fight to hold back tears and keep myself focused on the road.

It still moves me, close to twenty years after it came out. Simple and restrained but so powerful.

Having referred to Jakob Dylan at the start of this piece, one of his songs, Hope Against Hope (a co-write with Joe Henry), appears on this album


Black Cadillac was her next album dedicated to not just her father but June Carter who had died four months earlier and her mother Vivian Liberto who died in May 2005. This album has presented me with the biggest challenge. I have changed my mind half a dozen times as to which song to pick, but I’ve finally settled on The World Unseen.

The album is a requiem with songs permeated by a deep sense of loss. None more so than this selection.

The words to the final chorus (each one has a variation in the second line) are –

I will look for you
In the rhythm of my bloodstream
Westward leading, still proceeding
To the world unseen

The melody is absolutely gorgeous and it is that which finally swayed me. Other songs I considered were I Was Watching You, Burn Down This Town, Dreams Are Not My Home, Like Fugitives and the title track. All would be first rate choices.

The beautiful piano on the studio version is played by Benmont Tench.

Having noted above that Rosanne moved to New York in the early 1990s, distancing herself from Nashville and its connections, her next album was in many ways a reconnection. It was called The List and it was derived from a list of 100 essential country songs that Johnny had written out for Rosanne. He was surprised when she revealed she didn’t know a song he considered a classic. So he wrote out a list of those songs he felt it was essential she should know. Thus, in creating her versions of the songs, she was spiritually returning to her musical roots, as well as creating another tribute to her father.

The original list was mislaid, possibly lost forever, but Rosanne remembered at least a dozen which she recorded, some with guest vocals on this album.

It’s a shame that she has never recorded a song that she regularly performs live, that she says would surely have been No.101 on the list – Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe. I think I would have selected that song. There are plenty of YouTube videos of her performing it. They are of varying quality. I’d suggest that the Freshgrass 2016 performance is the best of them.

Anyway, I have gone for her cover of Sea Of Heartbreak, a song originally recorded by Don Gibson in 1961. She says that she had said to John that she’d really like Bruce Springsteen to accompany her on this song. He suggested she phone him and see what he thought, which she did. Of course, he said yes. They didn’t sing together in the same studio but it doesn’t show.

I’ve found an excellent live performance but it doesn’t feature Bruce. You’ll have to listen to the Spotify version for that. Mr Springsteen’s part is performed by Mr Leventhal.


Another five years followed before Rosanne’s next album came out in 2014, but the wait was worthwhile. The River And The Thread is her career masterpiece, being both a critical and commercial success. It was her bestselling album since the release of King’s Record Shop in 1987.
It also won three Grammy Awards. Although nominated many times since winning for I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me, 2014 marked her first win since then.

The river is of course the mighty Mississippi and the thread is both metaphorical and real (as opening track A Feather’s Not A Bird reveals as Rosanne sings about learning to sew and being told You have to learn to love the thread) It was inspired by a tour that she and John took around the Deep South, visiting many notable locations. The Sunken Lands refers to an area in Arkansas where the Cash family settled (and were saved) during The Depression under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Money Road is a spot close to Robert Johnson’s grave and where Emmett Till was murdered as well as being close to the Tallahatchie Bridge.

The album also came out on another new label. Rosanne switched to Blue Note. For most of its life Blue Note was a jazz label and most of the great jazz artists of the 1940s, 50s and 60s recorded for it at one time or another. What it epitomised was the highest quality jazz.

There has been a small number of labels over the years where I think artistry is put before commerce and you could safely buy a record unheard in the knowledge that it was worth hearing. The people who released the music cared about it. You may not necessarily like it but then you’d probably know someone who did, whom you could sell it to. Those labels include the likes of Elektra, Island, Atlantic and of course Blue Note. Although it was not the same label exactly as had existed (having folded but then been revived), I like to think that it still exists as a trademark of quality.

The album cover is a photo taken by John Leventhal of Rosanne looking out from the infamous Tallahatchie Bridge.

Another song, When The Master Calls The Roll, harks back to the Civil War when Cash family ancestors fought on both sides. It’s also notable as a co-write between Rosanne, John and ex-husband Rodney Crowell. There are many other jewels to be found. My selection is Etta’s Tune.

Johnny Cash’s longtime bassist was Marshall Grant whom Rosanne has referred to as a surrogate father. He and his wife Etta were married for 65 years which Rosanne notes is remarkable for a touring musician. When he was home, he and Etta began each day with the question “What’s the temperature darlin’?” Rosanne said to John that it was a very civilised way to start the day. John replied it was also a great first line for a song. The result is absolutely delightful.


There is a temptation to go with 8 Gods Of Harlem, the most strident track on Rosanne’s last album She Remembers Everything, if only for the prominent presence of Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello, both of whom sing lead on a verse each. But I’m taking a different course.

I have mentioned John Leventhal several times in this piece and the next song is Rosanne’s celebration of their marriage. Unusually for a love song it’s very uptempo. It’s called Not Many Miles To Go.

Singing lines like –

Thank you for the diamond ring
The baby boy and world on a string
The field guide to honour
And a thousand acts of love

– provide a wonderfully positive affirmation of the years they’ve had together while recognising that there’s more behind them than there probably is ahead.


My final choice is what I guess gets called a ‘deep cut’. I said there were two tracks from Rules Of Travel and this is my second. It’s my favourite of all her songs and is an appropriate ending being titled Last Stop Before Home. It’s also the album closer. I have never heard it performed live and I’m not sure if she has ever done so.

I think part of the reason is the mystery in the lyric. I assume it’s addressed to John Leventhal, early into their relationship

And all that I was, I gave that to you
And if it’s not enough, oh, there’s nothing more I can do

Each chorus ends:

You’re the last stop before home
And I always go home

With the final chorus ending:

And I always go home alone

I have written about the yearning quality in Rosanne’s voice and this exemplifies it absolutely. The enigma being the love is there, yet it is not fully embraced, and that last line about going home alone is delivered almost despairingly.


That’s my Rosanne Cash Toppermost. It’s four years since she released She Remembers Everything so I’m hoping it won’t be too long before there is a new album. There have been three singles since then including Crawling To The Promised Land, released in 2020, which appears to be an anti-Trump composition without actually naming him.

I hope I’ve convinced you that my opening premise is true and that Rosanne Cash is an artist who established herself as a songwriter and performer in her own right; deserving of your attention because of the superb quality of the music she’s produced and not just because of her unique heritage.




Rosanne Cash official website

Roseanne Cash on Blue Note Records

Rosanne Cash and the Many Meanings of Love
Ron Rosenbaum interview (Smithsonian magazine 2012)

Books by Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash biography (AllMusic)

Carl Parker originated in Chester but has lived in north London since 1981. He’s unusual in these times in not subscribing to any social media, but contributes to sites like The Afterword and used to contribute to No Depression before it turned into an elitist institution. He’s recently retired and enjoys a relaxed life, where listening to new music is a recurring pleasure.

TopperPost #1,042


  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 15, 2022

    Thanks for this excellent Toppermost on a still very underrated artist. Might have to include her superb duet with John Hiatt on ‘The Way We Make A Broken Heart’ in my Top 10 but not sure what could be left out from here to make room for it.

  2. Glenn Smith
    Oct 30, 2022

    Thanks Carl, great “list” in your own right. I saw her tour The List circa 2010 and she was brilliant. The stories of her family, the Scottish roots etc were great and of course the songs he’d selected for her. Her performance was extraordinary and a million miles from her father’s style, in fact I think what shapes her voice is more her maternal Italian roots. As you say a great artist in her own right, take away the Cash connection and we’d still be listening to her. And on the famous daughter/son artist in their own right I’d add in Julian Lennon.

  3. Ilkka Jauramo
    Nov 4, 2022

    For sure, she is an artist on her own. At the same time I am a fan of the WHOLE family. – So, thanks for this Toppermost.

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