Her 2014 concept album on the southern United States “The River & The Thread” may have been a resounding success, winning a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album and its opening track “A Feather’s Not a Bird” receiving Grammys for Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance, but singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash had no intention of repeating herself on the follow up. Though pushed by some in her inner circle to make her next album something similar and replicate its success, she wanted to turn to a more personal style of songwriting. Following her creative instincts resulted in 2018’s “She Remembers Everything,” an album that expresses Ms. Cash’s deeply and long felt emotions and thoughts on the troubles of the modern world. A darker album than its predecessor, “She Remembers Everything” represents a dramatic aesthetic shift from “The River & The Thread,” which will be displayed in a live setting when Ms. Cash performs songs from both albums at a UCSB Arts & Lectures performance on March 4 at Campbell Hall.
When she decided to take a different tonal direction for “She Remembers Everything,” the need to express what was deep in her heart superseded any concern over how a stylistic shift would fare in the marketplace.
“I felt like I had to make these records, and if it only sold five records it was okay because it was really something I had to do for myself,” she told the News-Press.
Topics covered in the album’s lyrics range from violence, to redemption, to women’s issues, and more broadly the relationship between men and women. The last is explored in the Grammy-nominated track “Crossing to Jerusalem,” which Ms. Cash penned with her husband John Leventhal, who will be joining her onstage at Campbell Hall. She co-wrote several of the album’s songs with Mr. Leventhal including “The Undiscovered Country” and “Everyone But Me,” the latter beginning as a set of lyrics that she initially thought wouldn’t amount to anything more than words on a page. But when her husband read those words, the song was born.
“I actually wrote the lyrics to ‘Everyone But Me’ and I didn’t think it was a song… I showed the lyrics to John and he said, ‘Oh, you have to let me write the music to this,’” she recalled.
All the songs Ms. Cash wrote with her husband have a place in her heart, but “Crossing to Jerusalem” is particularly special because it’s about the two of them.
“You write something with someone you love it’s special to begin with, but ‘Crossing to Jerusalem’ is about our long-term relationship and having fewer and fewer promises to each other,” she said.
That said, the album doesn’t shy away from the troubled state of male-female relationships that came to the fore in the past decade and continue to spill into the current one. Though Ms. Cash penned many of the album’s songs before the #MeToo movement against sexuall assault and harrassment hit its height, in retrospect she finds that her tunes were very prescient. With this record, she wanted to write about this difficult subject for the reason that “women my age have a lot of things to say and less time to say it.” When hearing this statement those with knowledge of Shakespeare may think her song “The Undiscovered Country,” its title lifted from the play “Hamlet” and its famous reference to death, refers to some fear of her own mortality. Instead, it’s about the divide between men, women, and beyond.
“I borrow from Shakespeare fairly regularly,” she said. “That reference in ‘Hamlet’ is to death, but in my song it’s about the space between us, the space inside us, the space between men and women.”
While she is a celebrated singer-songwriter in her own right, it is well known that music runs in Ms. Cash’s family. As the eldest daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash, growing up was difficult due to her father’s well known struggle with drug addiction, which mentally and emotionally shook her mother, Mr. Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto. Despite her father’s much publicised demons, Ms. Cash has no doubts about his love for her.
“I loved my dad and I knew he loved me. Eventually I found out the complications of all that and it had nothing to do with me,” she said.
Because her father’s personal struggles were so well known, the piece of advice Ms. Cash remembers most from him had nothing to do with music. His advice was for her to make sure she maintained what she called “equilibrium in my private life,” something she has taken to heart ever since.
“I have a fierce sense of protection about my private life,” she said.
For Ms. Cash, coming to Santa Barbara next week to perform has more personal significance than any ordinary tour stop. Between the ages of 16 and 18, she lived in Ventura county, so returning to the Central Coast will be something of a homecoming.
“Being in that part of the country feels like coming home to me. I love being in Santa Barbara,” she said.
Tickets for Rosanne Cash’s March 4 concert can be purchased online at artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. at Campbell Hall, located in Building 538 on the UCSB campus.