Rosanne Cash

Music Features Rosanne Cash

“I’m not a militant female songwriter, and I wouldn’t want to be considered some kind of new age uber-feminist,” Rosanne Cash says. “But having said that, expressing deep feelings does tend to make men uncomfortable.

“There’s really not much difference between men and women, but rubbing up against that little difference produces some great art and literature and music and sex. I love exploring that territory because it’s thrilling and liberating and feels sexy.” Cash, eldest daughter of Johnny, is known for the emotional power of her highly individual style of confessional songwriting, and people often assume that her songs come out of her reportedly tumultuous relationships. But despite her profound insights into the nature of heartbreak and the rapture of romance, the songwriter remains a fiercely private person. “I don’t live my life in public, and that’s a conscious choice. I may talk about an incident that’s the source of a song, or things that are important to me as a mother and a human being, but I don’t talk about my private life.”

That said, Cash did make a few disclosures. She recently recovered from a bout with throat polyps that kept her from singing—and speaking—for almost two years. “I was getting a bit hoarse and the doctor discovered a small polyp in my throat. I was pregnant at the time and the pregnancy hormones made it start growing like some bizarre plant.” Cash put off surgery until after her son was born, and as her hormones subsided the polyps shrank and were easily removed. While all this was going on, she was writing the songs that became Rules of Travel, an album that exhibits a big, open hearted, almost spiritual feeling.

“I’d say it’s more accepting,” Cash admits. “I wanted to live with the questions this time and not go looking for the big answers. I’m an obsessive person, and I found [that] writing more in the second and third person was a healthy way to pull me out of my own cesspool. There’s less navel-gazing—sometimes you can get sick of listening to your own thoughts—and more looking out at the world, more generosity of spirit.”

One of the albums most spiritual tracks is “September, When It Comes,” a beautifully poetic meditation on mortality that features Cash’s first recorded duet with her famous father.

“I was a bit intimidated, before I asked him to sing,” Cash said. “Not because of the subject matter, but because of who he is. I didn’t want it to sound like a gimmick, but John (Leventhal, Rosanne’s husband, co-writer and producer) convinced me it was an important song for [my dad] to sing and it was. I don’t know where [the inspiration] came from, but it’s a very personal song and even if my dad wasn’t who he was, and if I wasn’t making records, it’s the kind of song that I’d want to pass on to my kids and grandkids.”

Like her past work, Rules of Travel is equal parts country, pop and folk, a stylistic combination that Cash says comes naturally. “I grew up in southern California so I was exposed to The Beatles, and my dad, of course, as well as Buffalo Springfield, Traffic, Elton John. But I didn’t want to court fame, ’cause I saw what it had done to my family, and I was going through the natural rebellion against my parents like most 20-year-olds, and then I heard Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It sounds so clichéd,” Cash chuckled. “I’d loved Janis Joplin’s power but she wasn’t a writer, and here was Joni who trafficked in her own spirit, her own emotions, and it was so artful and poetic.

“At first I just thought it would be a great thing to write songs and have other people sing them, but I slowly came around to the realization that I could sing them myself. If I’d been a boy, I think it would have been harder for me, but being a girl nobody compared me to my dad, and I don’t do it myself. There are very few artists like my dad.”

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