Try 1 month for 99¢
Nashville, August 2005

Imagine you're a teenager wishing to follow your father into his profession.

It's a scenario that plays out thousands of times every day around the world, to varying outcomes.

Now imagine your father is legendary around the world for what he does. Since long before you were born, people associated your father's chosen profession with him. He's a legend.

You're 18.

That's exactly where Rosanne Cash found herself 35 years ago. She told her father she wanted to be a singer. And her father, Johnny Cash, even then recognized as one of the five most important country music performers in history, had his response ready.

If Rosanne wanted to be an artist, there were 100 songs she had to learn before she had any claim of artistry and could be taken seriously.

Rosanne's subsequent history of commercial and artistic success shows she learned well from her father. Her artistic success has continued unabated; her 2006 album "Black Cadillac" made a number of year-end best-of lists. (It was No. 2, behind The Oohs' "Llamalamp," on my list.)

So when she announced her intention to record some songs her father listed, my interest level dropped and my disappointment rose in similar fashion. The best of Rosanne Cash has always been fresh new material. Even her version of dad's "Tennessee Flat Top Box" in 1987 seemed little more than a pale copy, which probably happens with about 90 percent of the covers that get recorded.

What would be the point of this album, except to show that Johnny Cash knew his music, which had probably already occurred to most of us?

Rosanne Cash has made a career of beating the odds. And "The List," her 12-cut volume that represents what may be the first of several passes at her dad's creation, certainly defies my expectations.

(She's said other performers have asked for a peek, but she's holding the full list back for a potential return to it.)

Often, when musicians record others' songs, especially the well-known ones, they're approached with either too much reverence or too much effort in making them different. Sometimes those approaches work. Often they do not.

Cash makes few missteps on "The List." Oh, some songs are changed radically. Hank Snow might not recognize "I'm Movin' On," which utilizes a T-Bone Burnett style of production and left me expecting Elvis Costello's voice. "Motherless Children" is shockingly stark and bitter, Cash embodying the lyrics in a moving fashion.

On "Miss the Mississippi and You," she channels Patsy Cline, in a good way. "500 Miles" is a revelation, reinventing the song beyond any of my previous thoughts about it.

She even tackles "Long Black Veil," recorded 40 years ago by her father. Rosanne doesn't change the gender, making the song even more interesting.

If you're a fan of mid-20th century folk and country music, half the fun with "The List" will be rediscovering some of these songs, and even trying to figure out where you know the songs from. (It took an Internet search to discover my familiarity with "Sea of Loneliness" was via the Everly Brothers.)

And for those who even now still wonder about or question the quality of Bob Dylan's songwriting, just listen to the lyrics of his "Girl From the North Country" as sung here. What a beautiful song.

Rosanne Cash has marched to her own beat for years, leaving Nashville at the height of her success in the late 1980s. She's released a number of personal albums, written books, contributed to The New York Times and been everything we expect an artist to be.

May she march on.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments