In 1979, when Rosanne Cash cut Right or Wrong
, her first album for Columbia Records, she sounded like a revelation: a vocalist with a strong and versatile instrument, a rocker's nervy instincts, and a respect for country music traditions that didn't leave room for stodginess or the hollow sound of the emergent Nash Vegas era (not to mention an impressive lineage). What's most remarkable is that Cash became so much more with the passage of time; she grew into one of the most interesting acts on the country charts in the '80s and '90s, bringing pop, rock, and country together in a way that actually brought out the strengths in each style rather than diluting them, and then matured into a first-rate songwriter whose literate and deeply personal work dealt with the hardest realities of life and love with intelligence, honesty, and heart. There have been a handful of collections that have skimmed the cream from Cash's seven albums for Columbia, recorded between 1979 and 1993, but The Essential Rosanne Cash
, compiled by Cash and Gregg Geller
, puts nearly all of them to shame. Essential Rosanne Cash
lives up to its title by including one tune from her misbegotten 1978 debut album (released only in Germany and practically disowned by Cash) and nine from the four albums she released through Capitol/EMI between 1996 and 2009, making it the first Rosanne Cash album that offers a truly comprehensive look at her career to date. Moving from the smart and stylish contemporary country of her early albums to the meditations on family, loss, and music of her mature work, Essential
is more than just a well-compiled greatest-hits album: it allows us to watch an artist evolve from strength to strength over the course of 36 songs, and it's a fascinating and truly impressive collection from an artist who has never chosen to stay in the shadow of her father and his legendary music (though Johnny Cash
does contribute vocals on one track, "September When It Comes"). The album also includes a thoughtful essay from Cash and another from her frequent collaborator (and former husband) Rodney Crowell
. This is, quite simply, the best and most comprehensive Rosanne Cash collection released to date, and anyone looking for an introduction to her music or a well-chosen sampler of her catalog will be very well served by this set.