Saturday, September 25, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

The List
(new release)

Rosanne Cash

Manhattan Records LP
Produced by: John Leventhal
Engineered by: John Leventhal and Rick DePofi
Mixed by: John Leventhal and Rick DePofi
Mastered by: Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound
Lacquer cut by: Ron McMaster at Capitol Studios



Cash Draws From Her Dad's List of 100 Essential American Songs

by Michael Fremer
September 01, 2010

Drawn from a list of "100 Essential Country Songs" her dad penciled on a yellow legal pad after realizing that his young daughter didn't know any of what he considered to be part of his, and therefore her musical DNA, Roseanne Cash's The List is a full circle tribute to her father Johnny and her musical homecoming. It's an album the elder Cash would have been thrilled to hear.

As Cash points out in the notes to this collaborative effort with her husband John Leventhal, it incorporates elements of her Southern birth, her Southern California upbringing, a decade spent in Tennessee and her later life as a longtime New Yorker. Whew! So infused within these twelve, economically arranged and impeccably performed country classics is a musical mash-up that includes classic country, suburban rock and city sophistication.

The set list opens with a breezy "Countrypolitan" take on "Miss the Mississippi And You" that Chet Atkins would have been proud to produce and/or play on. Next up is the public domain "Motherless Children" popularized by Eric Clapton. "Sea of Heartbreak," co-written by Hal David has Bruce Springsteen joining in and sounding more like Lyle Lovett than "The Boss."

"Take These Chains From My Heart" by country veterans Hy Heath and Fred Rose hits all the right classic country notes: melody, lyrical line, pacing and emotional tone. This one epitomizes the spare, understated beauty of all of John Leventhal's arrangements. They're so good if you don't pay attention you'll miss them, which would be a real shame.

Hank Snow's country blues "Movin' On" covered in 1964 in a raucous version by The Rolling Stones gets a lazy yet resigned and powerful version. The side ends with Elvis Costello lending a hand on the classic "Heartaches By the Number" taken as if one time Carter-Cash family member Nick Lowe was involved.

That's just one side of this low key, understated and oh so tasteful album. Side two includes an appropriately spare, desolate and lonely take on Hedy West's "500 Miles" that Peter, Paul and Mary popularized, a mournful "Long Black Veil" featuring Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, "Hank Cochrane's lyrically archetypal " (I've Got the Records) She's Got You," Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" (squaring the circle) and after the unlikely pairing of Cash and Rufus Wainright (about as likely as Dylan and Johnny Cash!) on Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," the album ends with founding Carter family member A.P. Carter's "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow."

The List was just named "Album of the Year" at the Americana Music Association's "Americana Honors and Awards Show" held at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium, during which Ms. Cash awarded John Mellencamp the " 2010 Lifetime Recipient for Songwriting" award.

Sonically it's a well intended, cleanly produced album, with the collaborative vocals "phoned in" as is commonplace these days. It sounds ProTools-ish. That is the top end is opaque and diffuse, there's little in the way of instrumental definition and image solidity but either you get used to this for now, or you won't be buying too much new music.

If it's other than ProTools I'd be surprised and humiliated and I'll be sure to correct myself in this review. I asked a well respected recording engineer why ProTools recordings sound as they do and he said "It sucks. They don't know how to construct the algorithms to make music sound good." Or something close to that.

Ted Jensen mastered at Sterling but the lacquer cut was done at Capitol because someone didn't want to pay the higher going rate at Sterling so I'd bet a 44.1k/16 bit file was used to generate the lacquer. If I find out that's wrong I'll tell you.

Pressing quality is acceptable but not great so perhaps you're better off getting the CD. Whatever the format, you're better off getting this music!

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

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