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POP ALBUM REVIEW

'Cadillac' has ghostly passengers

January 21, 2006|Randy Lewis

Rosanne Cash

"Black Cadillac"

(Capitol)

***

COMING to terms with the death of a parent is a monumental task for anyone. When that parent is a cultural titan on the level of a Johnny Cash, the layers of grief and loss grow even more complex. And if that weren't plenty to keep even as gifted a singer-songwriter as Rosanne Cash up to her tear ducts in source material, fold in the deaths of her mother (Johnny's first wife, Vivian Liberto Distin) and her country-legend stepmother, June Carter Cash, all within two years.

It's a lot for anyone to get their hands around, but Cash grips tightly to the aspects of loss she has been able to process, even if the enormity of that task escapes her grasp at times.

The tone is expectedly somber, with lots of minor-key musical settings for dark words of hurt, anger, despondency and fleeting hopelessness. In these dozen songs -- some directly about one parent, others more general in examining separation from a loved one -- Cash repeatedly draws on touchstone images: kings and queens (as much as anyone, she can claim the birthright of country music royalty), of smoke and fire, of graves and emotional waves.

Always an erudite writer, even that talent can't make things better in the face of such primal losses; she seeks answers to largely answerless questions about the essence of the bond of love between two human beings and what it is that survives the physical or emotional absence of the loved one.

The title song, which pulses with those heart-rending suspended-fourth chords that Coldplay likes so much, refers to her dad's preferred mode of four-wheeled transport as an omen. "Radio Operator" uses his military occupation in a cry for better communication, set to a bouncy country shuffle that conjures his signature sound.

She's atypically heavy-handed lashing out at organized religion and lawyers -- both easy targets -- in "Like Fugitives," keeping to higher ground and invoking a tangible sense of beloved places past in "House on the Lake," "World Without Sound" and "God Is in the Roses," the latter briefly quoting the Beach Boys' faith-restoring "You Still Believe in Me."

Under her outer skepticism, it's clear some kind of faith resides; undoubtedly this won't be her last word on the void in her life left by parental giants.

-- Randy Lewis

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