Record Reviews 

Macrch 2-8, 2006

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Country royalty mourns Johnny, June, and Vivian with an angry,

lively, personal testament.

Rosanne Cash's recording career began back in 1979 and can be neatly divided into halves -- fairly conventional, hit-making Nashville princess (1979 to 1989) giving way to literate, reclusive New York City singer-songwriter (1990 to the present). The bright dividing line of these two personas is Interiors, Cash's widely praised 1990 album about the painful breakup of her marriage to Rodney Crowell. The constant throughout is Cash's seductive, husky voice.

Interiors is still great, but Cash's early country hits -- "Seven Year Ache," "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me," and "Tennessee Flat Top Box" (a remake of her daddy's hit) -- have aged better than the songs on 1993's The Wheel (which was the start of a 10-year layoff). All this is to say that the news that Cash's new album, Black Cadillac, deals directly with the death of father Johnny Cash, stepmother June Carter Cash, and mother Vivian Liberto Cash Distin is welcome though perhaps tinged with trepidation. How sad and introspective is it going to be?

Well, Black Cadillac is sad and introspective but also angry, lively, and personal; you could easily read it as Cash's attempt to wrestle her family's memory from Walk the Line and opportunists looking to make a buck. The searing "The House on the Lake" pretty much says that her history isn't for sale. The blues-rock beat of "Burn This Town" gives way to the sweet dulcimer and sweet sentiment of "God Is in the Roses." The gorgeous, ethereal "Like a Wave" begins with "My memory is filling with smoke/It's such a relief not to know" and grows more mysterious and powerful from there.

The album is bracketed by Johnny Cash gently prodding the young Rosanne to speak into a studio microphone. The Man in Black haunts this record, and it's a testament to his daughter that she honors his spirit while at the same time making her grief, pain, and confusion compelling and vital listening. -- Werner Trieschmann

Grade: A-

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The Believer

Rhett Miller

(Verve Forecast)

For a half-dozen years from the mid-'90s to 2001's career-best Satellite Rides, Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller was one of the planet's most underrated songwriters. But this marks the third record in a row, either solo or with band, that Miller hasn't been able to find the crackle and focus of his best work. Miller's more orchestrated in a solo setting, but this collection of literate love songs is still plenty hooky even if Miller cheats a little: He repeats "Question" from Satellite Rides (which fits) and unearths onetime Old 97's bonus track "Singular Girl," a great song that deserves more exposure. ("Singular Girl," "My Valentine," "Delicate") -- Chris Herrington

Grade: B

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Standing in the Way of Control

The Gossip

(Kill Rock Stars)

What does an honest, political punk album sound like in the second year of a second Bush term? Less like revolution than reassurance. Not we shall overcome, but we shall stay alive. "You'll find your place in the world, girl," Beth Ditto promises. "Survive the only way that you know," she urges. And with guitarist Brace and new drummer Hannah Blilie behind her, Ditto preaches to the choir with soulful, sincere, surging garage anthems; spare industrial funk that never stops pounding and popping; and the powerhouse pipes of a Dixie-fried Corin "Sleater-Kinney" Tucker. ("Fire, Fire," "Your Mangled Heart," "Keeping You Alive") -- CH

Grade: A-

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