While revisiting Rosanne Cash’s last album, “The River and the Thread” (2014), “Etta’s Tune” came up in rotation. It tugged at my heartstrings as my left foot rocked my 3-week-old daughter, Etta, in her Rock ‘n Play. Of course, I had to know if Cash might play “Etta’s Tune” at her upcoming stopover in Wilmington.
“Congratulations!” she answers enthusiastically to our new addition. “I love the name, and yes, we will definitely do that song.”
Cash and her husband/longtime collaborator John Leventhal will perform an acoustic showcase of her prolific and extensive catalog on Thursday, April 5, at Thalian Hall. Her performance will feature a wide range of material, such as more tracks from “The River and the Thread,” to early albums like 1981’s “Seven Year Ache,” and even a musical based on Sally Fields’ 1979 film, “Norma Rae,” for which Cash and Leventhal recently wrote songs. To say the least, they’ve attempted to compose a well-rounded set.
“I think both about what the audience will want to hear,” she notes, “like songs from my last record, and the hits from the past—as well as what I’m excited about introducing and some particular favorites.”
Cash plans to incorporate brand new tracks from her forthcoming album, which hopefully will have an October release. She says her latest project is filled with songs from her own life, what she sees on the horizon, grappling with the past, and being somewhat femininely subversive. “Sam Phillips and I wrote a song together; I adore her,” Cash divulges. Other guest artists like Colin Meloy provide harmonies.
“I adore Colin,” Cash praises. “I’ve recorded five tracks with Tucker Martine producing, which was thrilling. I admire him so much. And of course, I’m working with John and we are excited about songs we’re writing together. He inspires me as much as always.”
Cash and Leventhal have been together for quite some time. Approaching three decades of marriage, their personal and professional relationships continue to balance, grow and even play into each other.
“We love talking about music and making musical plans and writing together—as well as arguing about which chair to buy or TV show to watch,” she quips. “We’re very close. We don’t like being apart more than a couple of days. We spend more time together than any couple I know, in fact. We like it that way. I feel sort of unmoored without him.”
As of late Cash has collaborated on a couple projects outside of her own. She makes an appearance on “Hopes and Dreams: The Lullaby Project” (available April 20), which features original songs written by pregnant women and new mothers from schools, homeless shelters and correctional facilities across New York City. Each song is performed by different female artists, including Fiona Apple, Joyce DiDonato, Rhiannon Giddens, Patti LuPone, and Natalie Merchant, among others.
Cash sings “Winter in my Heart,” penned by an anonymous Lullaby Project participant with Emily Eagen, . “I was invited and I thought it was a beautiful and meaningful project,” she tells—“an easy yes.”
In March Cash also performed work of her father, Johnny Cash, alongside Ry Cooder in “Cash and Cooder on Cash” in San Francisco. It’s something she doesn’t often do, if ever. As for most artists who come from talented lineage, Cash never wanted to work or live filtered through her parents.
“I don’t imagine that’s unusual for anyone,” she adds. “I would never do this kind of thing with anyone but Ry Cooder. He told me a story about himself as a little boy and hearing my dad’s ‘Hey Porter’ on the radio, and what it did to him and for him. It was very moving. He’s deep into Johnny Cash for the right reasons, not the ridiculous iconographic reasons. We love the music in the same way. The songs will be filtered through our own personalities with tremendous respect for the original. There’s no point in trying to completely mimic the original.”
Rosanne Cash is just as blunt as her famed father was in his tenure. While Johnny Cash set fire to traditional down-home country lyrics and sounds with topics of murder and cocaine blues in the ‘60s, she’s been just as outspoken about gun violence in the United States. She’s consistently critical of the NRA and current policies/regulations (or lack thereof) of military-style weapons. It feel even more integral at a time during which school shootings seem to have become more and more commonplace. Nevertheless, she doesn’t see herself using celebrity or legacy as a platform or part of any agenda.
“I have an agenda as a mom and as a citizen,” she clarifies. “No right or amendment is without limits and we are being held hostage by the NRA, which has become an organization that supports domestic terrorism. I will never shut up about this until children stop being killed at school. My child’s right to go to school without fear of being shot trumps the ‘right’ to own a personal arsenal of semi-automatic weapons.”
Aside from “Johnny Cash: Forever Words” (released April 6), to which she contributed, Rosanne Cash won’t likely produce anything else involving her father or his works. In fact, “Forever Words” is a collaborative record featuring Johnny Cash’s unknown poetry, lyrics and letters, set to music and performed by multiple artists (Chris Cornell, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp).