Therapy’s been good for Rosanne Cash. So has mourning. On Black Cadillac the 50-year-old wisely positions herself as a survivor, not a Survivor, responding to the deaths of her father, mother, and stepmother with an anger she hasn’t approximated since 1987’s King’s Record Shop. More than 15 years after Interiors signaled Cash’s abandonment of her unmatched honky-tonk–Pat Benatar hybrid for confessional tropes plucked on Joni Mitchell guitar tunings, she emerges with her genius for genre-bending intact: This time the doom-buggy rattle of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind meets the controlled hysteria of Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will. Makes sense too, for King’s Record Shop remains studio pop’s apex, on which Cash played Stevie, Christine, and Lindsey: She was a gypsy, a chanteuse, and a mad studio boffin, chasing a wife-beatin’ husband away so that she can plant a wet one on his wife. Meanwhile the drums and guitars crunched like post-punk never happened. (Fuck the Mekons: Seven Year Ache and Rhythm & Romance are the real alt-country totems.)
Cash’s hubby John Leventhal—who, like his predecessor Rodney Crowell, knows the difference between spit and polish—produces and handles instrumental duties on Black Cadillac‘s quieter songs; these seethe with a convincing menace. Since Cash can court the absurd and the vulgar, we have to endure a couple of numbers that edge into Shawn Colvin territory (mandolins, sparrows, roses, yick) as well as one tune that calls shit on lawyers as if Rosanne’s forgotten how good divorce has been for her artistically—personally too, as she’ll likely admit. The Bill Bottrell–helmed songs evince a surprising range, and Cash is up to all of it, even if the welcome apostasy of the New Orleans death-boogie “World Without Sound” (“I wish I was a Christian/but I cannot believe”) ensures that she’ll never get played in the modern Nashville she helped create.
Black Cadillac doesn’t have much to say about why Cash is so sad; it’s as if she’s trying to figure out why she has to work up the emotions to miss her parents and stepmother in the first place, which, when you come to think about it, is how the death of loved ones often affects us. “All those years to prove how much I care,” Cash admits on “I Was Watching You,” resigned, not needy. Rest assured: Her ache’ll last longer than seven years.