Aging is a fact of life that can be resisted, but never outrun, so the smarter tactic is generally to embrace the wisdom that comes from having witnessed so many years passing by. Those who do so recognize that it is better to be the grand old oak towering over the land than the small, scampering squirrel hiding acorns within it.
Our greatest songwriters are like those grand oaks, each album marking a ring of time’s passage. Living legends like Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, and Willie Nelson come to mind, of course, as do icons like Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rosanne Cash.
On her latest release, She Remembers Everything, Cash sets her previous explorations of the past aside to share her hard-earned wisdom of the here-and-now from the perspective of a 63-year-old-woman who, like Farmers Insurance, knows a thing or two because she has seen a thing or two.
With production duties handled alternately by Tucker Martine and John Leventhal, She Remembers Everything has a casual confidence to it, much like Cash herself. There’s nothing showy or preachy in her work. Rather, it’s filled with honest and empathetic gazes into the world around her, in all its fragile, flawed glory.
The album opens with “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” co-written with Lera Lynn and T Bone Burnett: “Waking up is harder than it seems, wandering through these empty rooms of dusty books and quiet dreams,” Cash sings, adding, “Pictures on the mantle speak your name softly like forgotten tunes, just outside the sound of pain.” There is loss in the verses of these songs. Loss of self and soul, of purpose and patience.
But the losses aren’t from carelessness. More than once, they are the results of thievery — moments and lives stolen by outside forces. The title track, co-written with the wondrous singer/songwriter Sam Phillips, feels like Cash’s entry into the historical #MeToo record on behalf of the whole sisterhood, while “8 Gods of Harlem,” a collaboration with Kristofferson and Elvis Costello, reflects on a trail of bodies caused by gun violence. In music as in life, Cash is not shy about speaking her mind when it comes to injustice.
In between these commentaries, though, she insists that there is a healing balm for all the pain: living a life filled with laughter and love. Whether with birthdays, babies, or bourbon, Cash seeks out joy as resistance to despair. Even so, she also recognizes that “we owe everything… to this rainbow of suffering,” as she acknowledges in the simple rumination that is “Particle and Wave.”
Much like the grand old oak turning its leaves to the sun, Rosanne Cash reaches for the light whenever and wherever she can, all the while understanding that the gnarled bark and broken branches are, like aging, facts of every life.