Shorty after graduating high school, Rosanne Cash took her father up on his offer to join him on tour. The 18 year old was not only schooled in the ways of stage performance and the drudgery of bus travel, but also received an invaluable gift from her father. Johnny Cash possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of American music. Upon discovering his daughter’s lack of musical history he composed a list he called “100 Essential Country Songs.” The list consisted of songs of protest, early folk, Delta blues, gospel, Texas swing and standards. Rosanne Cash preserved the list and slowly began integrating these songs into live performance.
The List is a loving rendering of 12 songs from Johnny Cash’s list. Rosanne opens with the classic love-lorn lament “Miss the Mississippi and You.” Organ, stand-up bass, brushed percussion and Chet Atkin’s like guitar create a swing waltz. “Motherless Children” begins with Cash singing to acoustic guitar and mandolin, but the tempo picks up with additional instruments. Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On” with it’s heavy emphasis on bass, is played out to emphasis its blues-base. In like fashion “500 Miles,” with it’s church organ highlighting the arrangement, exposes the song’s gospel inspirations.
Cash has gathered an impressive roster of guest vocalist. Bruce Springsteen was her first choice for the duet “Sea of Heartbreak.” According to Cash, Springsteen’s possess an authentically American voice that is enhanced by his knowledge of country music. Elvis Costello brings a light touch to “Heartaches by the Number.” Cash also stated in a recent interview that “Long Black Veil” was the first song she wanted for this album. It’s cinematic drama drew her to the tale of twisted fate. Jeff Tweedy contributes his vocals to the song. The most unusual pairing is with Rufus Wainwright on Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings.” It is the most produced piece on the album, featuring layers of Wainwright’s vocals and a string section.
Rosanne Cash also tackles “Girl From the North Country.” Cash was 14 years old when her father recorded the songs as a duet for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Little Rosanne witnessed the recording so one can only imagine her faith in her own abilities in order to record it. The same goes for "She's Got You" a song forever identified with Patsy Cline. “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” is stark and beautiful and it underscores what a great singer Rosanne Cash has become. Her voice is clear and true, her phrasing impeccable. She’s learned the fine art of restraint, a great skill when tackling songs of such refinement. The classics tend to be written with an economy of language and a great singer knows that the well chosen words don’t need overwrought vocals. Johnny’s daughter has done her daddy proud.