A prodigy of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, pop-country singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash is proud of the lineage that contributed so much to American music.
“Of course, I’m proud of it,” she says during a telephone interview. “It’s a huge part of my life and my DNA. It feels good to carry the legacy on.”
Cash’s newest, “She Remembers Everything,” is a mix of shimmering pop with hints of twang and jazz that could find a home in any year of American music, according to ShoreFire Media. Here, though, she shifts her gaze from music history and heritage to assert her own perspective.
“These are the most personal songs I’ve written in many years,” Cash says. “I think they have a distinctly feminine point of view. They’re gothic in some ways, but definitely feminine. There are dark themes of mortality and loss, love and rage, trauma and beauty. I feel some of them are as much me as I’ve put on record.”
Written in collaboration with her husband, Grammy Award-winning musician, producer, songwriter and recording engineer John Leventhal, “She Remembers Everything” was released in early November on Blue Note Records.
Cash and Leventhal will perform an intimate, acoustic concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $43, $46 or $49 and can be purchased online at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.
“The partnership between Cash and Lenventhal is ... harmonious. They watch each other appreciatively, sharing smiles as they perform songs that span Cash’s career, from the pop-country of her first hit, ‘Seven Year Ache,’ to the Appalachian bluegrass classic ‘Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow Tree.’ It amounts to a glorious celebration by an artist who has finally come into her own,” writes Betty Clarke in a July review for The Guardian.
“We really love doing this acoustic duo show,” Cash says. “It’s intimate, but it still has energy. John is such a tremendous musician, with one guitar he sounds like a band. It’s one of our favorite things to do. I think people will really enjoy it.”
Carter is comfortable with herself as a songwriter.
“I feel that at my age I still have a lot to say, and less time to say it,” she says. “So I feel a sense of urgency about writing the songs I want. I’ve always been a songwriter who strives for excellence. I’m also a prose writer, so I have an ear for literature. My dad was a great Southern poet, and he wrote some of the best in his songs. We’re writers, though we have completely different voices. It’s hugely important to me to use language the best I can.”
Cash has several books to her credit, including her 2011 best-selling memoir, “Composed,” which the Chicago Tribune touted as “one of the best accounts of an American life you’ll likely ever read.”
Her first, “Bodies of Water,” was published in 1996. Kirkus Reviews called the book of stories “a cut above most celebrity writing ... satisfying gossip-seekers with its thinly veiled autobiographical pieces about the pop singer’s divorce from Rodney Crowell, her three children, and her own childhood as the daughter of a country music legend.”
Cash’s many recordings include a trio of albums that explored her roots. “Black Cadillac,” released in 2006, followed the deaths of her mother, stepmother and father. “The List,” a collection of songs her father compiled for her, released in 2009. “The River & The Thread,” released in 2014, won three Grammies.
“She Remembers Everything” includes sounds that go beyond country, pop, rock and blues.
“I recorded half the album in Portland with Tucker Martine, who’s an amazing record producer,” Cash says. “He produced Portland rock band The Decemberists, his wife, Laura Veirs, and singer and songwriter Neko Case.”
Martine grew up in Nashville, attended college in Boulder, Colorado, then worked in Seattle. He now lives in Portland and makes records at his studio, Flora Recording & Playback.
“I just cold-called him and asked if he wanted to produce five songs for me,” Cash says. “It turned out to be one of the most satisfying musical experiences I’ve had. The other half of the record was co-written and produced by my husband in New York. We’ve worked together for a long time. We’ve been married for 23 years.”
Two of the album’s tracks, “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” and “Rabbit Hole,” feature Colin Meloy of Portland band The Decemberists, and “8 Gods of Harlem” features work by old friends Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson.
Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2015, near to her ancestors, and the lineage continues.
“My stepsister Carlene Carter is a musician in Portland,” she says. “And my son, Jakob Leventhal, is a musician. He’ll be 20 years old this month, and he’s just beginning. He’s at the University of Chicago. He made his first album this past summer, and two of his songs are on Spotify and iTunes. The album, “Oh, So Bittersweet!” will be released Feb. 13. He’s a fine musician and songwriter. My husband is a tremendous musician, so it makes sense that Jake gets his musical DNA from both sides.”
Tony Award-winning writer John Weidman and director Gregory Mosher approached Cash and Leventhal to compose lyrics and music for a stage production of “Norma Rae.”
“We’ve been working on it for close to five years,” Cash says. “It’s a woman’s transformation framed in a story of factory unionization. It’s a timely and powerful story. Weidman and Mosher said they wanted roots music that will transfer to Broadway.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s incredibly satisfying to write in these characters’ voices, to translate roots music that will work on Broadway, and write in a narrative style. It’s really cool. I’ve really enjoyed it,” she says.
“These projects take a long time, longer than making an album. When they’re good, they’re great, but you’ve got to be 95 percent on the mark for this kind of venture. I think it’s good. I hope it flies.”
Laurie Heuston is arts and entertainment editor for the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings. Reach her at email@example.com.