The passage of time, tenacious love, a life on the road and inevitable mortality suffuse âShe Remembers Everything,â Rosanne Cashâs new album. âFrom this point on thereâs nothing certain/except thereâs not many miles to go,â she sings in one of the albumâs most upbeat songs, the country-rocker âNot Many Miles to Go.â And in âEveryone But Me,â a solemn piano hymn, she counsels, âOur strange and beautiful lies/Fade and turn to dust.â Cash is 63, and she is neither pretending otherwise nor regretting where she stands right now.
Her previous album, âThe River and the Threadâ from 2014, was a travelogue through the geography of the South and through her family heritage; she is Johnny Cashâs daughter. On âShe Remembers Everything,â Cash contemplates the present as the outcome of a lifetime of choices, balancing memories and prospects, loyalties and second thoughts, repentance and acceptance.
Her voice finds equipoise in those mixed emotions. It seems transparent, always natural and confiding, never forced. The nearly unornamented way she carries melodies, shading some words with the tiniest bit of a quaver, comes across as both pensive and determined, and it lets her find mythic resonances behind everyday details.
âCrossing to Jerusalem,â written with her husband, John Leventhal, presents a marriage as a pilgrimage toward home, telescoping a long life together into brief verses: âThe birthdays and the babies/The bourbon and the tears/Roaring like a hurricane/Tearing up the years.â Another of their collaborations, âThe Undiscovered Country,â considers past and future generations (pairing, along the way, âShakespeare and my fatherâ) and longtime attachments, concluding that she is âthankful for what we donât understand/the undiscovered country between a woman and a man.â In both songs, Leventhal plays all the instruments, melding the lucidity of a string band with the gravity of anthems.
On this album, Cash adds a new variable to her music after collaborating with Leventhal since 1993 as a producer and main songwriting partner. Half of âShe Remembers Everythingâ was produced by Tucker Martine, who has worked with the Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case and his wife, Laura Veirs. His tracks for this album, featuring Tim Youngâs reverb-laden electric guitar, move Cash from Leventhalâs pristinely rootsy Americana into moodier, noirish realms.
Thatâs the tone of the albumâs ambiguous and gripping title song. âShe Remembers Everythingâ was written by Cash and the California-based songwriter Sam Phillips, who lends her voice to harmonies. Its mysterious central character is a traumatized woman who might be the narratorâs younger self or one of her victims. âWho knows who she used to be/before it all went dark?â Cash sings, and later, âI donât know her now/my bitter pill, my broken vow/this girl who sings/she remembers everything.â Its measured beat and descending minor chords hint distantly at Bob Dylanâs âBallad of a Thin Manâ; its troubles stay vividly unresolved.
Cash has other new songwriting collaborators: T Bone Burnett and Lera Lynn. Playing the nightclub chanteuse in the second season of âTrue Detective,â Lynn first performed the doleful, minor-key songs that start and end the standard version of Cashâs album: âThe Only Thing Worth Fighting For,â which announces, âNow you see my world in flames,â and âMy Least Favorite Life,â which muses, âLost now forever/my love and our sweet memories.â (A deluxe version of the album adds three bonus songs.)
While the songs face sorrows, they donât capitulate to them. They place sadness alongside love and perseverance, the experiences of a long adult life; they savor consolations. âParticle and Wave,â written by Cash alone and backed by Leventhal, measures a lifetime against the laws of physics, immutable on a scale far larger than mere human existence. âLight is particle and wave,â Cash sings. âIt reveals what we hold dear/and it slows so I can hold you near.â