"Rules of Travel" (Capitol)
It's been a decade since Cash's last studio album, so it's no big surprise that time is frequently on the singer-songwriter's mind in this intimate, barriers-down effort. Cash's thoughts on self-identity also figure prominently, an outgrowth of two years spent wrestling with career-threatening voice problems.
The album opens with the reflective "Beautiful Pain," directed at someone who's wrapped up in pain but sounds ready to move beyond that trap. Cash has reveled in her own beautiful pain in the past, but this song was written by Craig Northey and is one of three on the album she had no hand in writing.
Her own "September When It Comes" features Johnny Cash, but it isn't so much a daughter-father dialogue as parallel monologues obliquely ruminating on mortality from very different vantage points. The performance brings both in close, like loved ones confiding at less than arm's length.
There's some wit amid the demon-wrestling, notably in the sly humor of "Closer Than I Appear." But there aren't many light moments, as if she's saying "Fun? Another time."
-- Randy Lewis
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