Music » Record Reviews

Short Cuts

Country royalty makes a comeback.


Rules of Travel

Rosanne Cash


For the past 20 years, Rosanne Cash has earned a reputation as a classic singer-songwriter, displaying great courage and feistiness in exploring relationships in song. In what seems to be a classic female pattern, Cash lost her singing voice in 1998, when she began work on this, her 10th album. Like other female singers that this has happened to (Linda Thompson and British folkie Shirley Collins are two recent examples), Cash has also had to perform in the shadow of a great man -- in her case, her father, Johnny Cash, a pretty tough act to follow.

Vulnerability and insecurity seem to be major factors in this vocal trauma, issues which over the years have become Cash's stock in trade. In addition to making music, she's spent the last couple of decades raising children, and she's a celebrated writer as well. Losing her voice provoked a major identity crisis: Was she mainly a writer? A mother? Just a singer-songwriter on the side? It turns out, of course, that each of these paths is an equally important source of creativity in her work -- whether it's mothering, writing short stories, or singing songs.

After several years, Cash's vocal condition righted itself. She admits that that episode freed her to see herself as a legitimate singer-songwriter. Rules of Travel finds Cash in more pop territory than before, but the result is a great listen, and her edge is still razor sharp. Just check out the alternately menacing, alternately intimate tune "Closer Than I Appear." Musical guests include Sheryl Crow and Teddy Thompson, with an erotically tinged musical exchange with Steve Earle. The tour de force of the album, though, has to be "September When It Comes," a duet with her father, a poignant reminder of loss and unresolved issues at the end of a life. Cash has resisted working with her father until now. But his serious illness, coupled with her newfound belief that she really is a bona-fide musician after all, prompted this moment. Hearing the grand old man struggling to sing his daughter's prophetic words and harmonizing with her on this piece is heartrending. For my money, there's nothing sexier than the intelligence with which this 48-year-old writes about the ups and downs of a woman's life. -- Lisa Lumb

Grade: B+

Hillbilly Boogie

Various Artists

(Proper, UK)

What ever would country music be without fads? Take boogie-woogie, a blues form that had seemingly exhausted itself by World War II, only to explode upon the country landscape in the late '40s and early '50s, with dozens of songs from the era containing the word "boogie" in their titles. Now the smart British reissue company Proper, which routinely offers budget-priced and frequently definitive four-CD box sets of jazz, gospel, blues, and country, has compiled 100 of them. Hillbilly Boogie's tracks are sequenced in conceptual arcs, with place songs (Curly Williams' "Georgia Boogie," Gene O'Quinn's "Texas Boogie"), food songs (Art Gunn's "Cornbread Boogie," Wayne Raney's "Catfish Boogie"), even name songs (Earl Songer's "Mother-in-Law Boogie," Johnny Bond's "Mean Mama Boogie") all set in thematic order, and it works better than it has any right to.

Most of Hillbilly Boogie's selections are straight-up party music, their loose-limbed rhythms, usually created sans a pronounced trap-drum backbeat, falling somewhere between good-time honky-tonk and outright novelty records. (Even the last track, Butterball Paige's "I'm Too Old To Boogie Anymore," finds the singer jolly about his predicament.) The dance beat unifies everything, particularly on disc four's run of dance-specific cuts, including Roy Hogsed's "Snake Dance Boogie" (complete with an interpolation of "There's a Girl in France"!) and Hank Snow's "Rhumba Boogie." Blues shuffle shares space with country two-step, and there are even nods to jazz like the almost western swing-like "Zeb's Mountain Boogie," credited to Brad Brady but actually cut by Patsy Cline producer Owen Bradley and the Tennesseans. If you're guessing that all this cross-pollinated boogieing around has something to do with the birth of rock-and-roll, give yourself a cigar. You may not necessarily need 100 songs containing the word "boogie" in their titles, but, like the activity itself, it sure is fun. n -- Michaelangelo Matos

Grade: A-


Cave In


Five years ago we would not be speaking of Cave In within the context of MTV2 daytime programming, Clear Channel rock radio, or malls. The once-thudding, screaming, metalcore band has now entered the vocabulary of the undiscerning alt-metal fan. The transition was an almost brazen commercial makeover, but the members of Cave In were not handpicked from a Slipknot concert and assembled into a band by an impresario. Cave In spent a few years eating crow as a ludicrously heavy, inaccessible, and somewhat intellectual alternative to EyeHateGo. Then, on 2000's Jupiter, they befuddled longtime fans by adding a shiny coat of Radiohead to the package. There will be no longtime fans sticking around for Antenna.

Antenna was assembled for mass consumption, right down to the free-CD contest spots running on MTV2 as you read this. It's heavy for listeners who don't want, or don't know, real heaviness, and there is nothing on this CD that even remotely recalls metal. The vocals are a precise synthesis of Queens of the Stone Age croon, emo-boy yelp, and early-'90s grungeternative snarl. It's almost as if somebody loaded all of that crap into a computer program. There is even an acoustic/electric ballad (the strategically placed centerpiece "Beautiful Son") that rips off Soundgarden's initial major-label sound. Oh, how times do not change. Because Cave In are not a band that fell out of a tree yesterday, the songwriting is above average and on par with the Foo Fighters or the Deftones. Well-crafted for what it is, and if the street team pulls its weight, Cave In will be unavoidable in a matter of months. -- Andrew Earles

Grade: C+

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