By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch


November 18, 2004

Rosanne Cash It took Rosanne Cash until her 49th year to do what she's wanted to do since first hearing her father's 1965 album "Ballads of the True West."

"It has always been kind of a goal that I wanted to do a seamless record that's all about one thing. 'Interiors' came close," she says of her 1990 CD that unflinchingly documented the breakup of her marriage to fellow country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell.

But now, about a year since the deaths of her father and stepmother, Johnny and June Carter Cash, "Black Cadillac" is about to happen.

The image behind the title becomes obvious when Cash explains that the CD is "about loss, about death, how relationships go on when one person dies. It's a peek into another world, when someone you love moves there."

She laughs and adds, "It's not as grim as that might sound."

Fans will get a preview of the new CD when Cash performs a few of the songs during her concert Friday night at the Sheldon Concert Hall. It will be the next to last show of a tour that began with the spring 2003 release of her most-recent CD, the Grammy-nominated "Rules of Travel."

That album dealt with intimacy, and those songs should resonate during her Sheldon show because while much of the tour has been with a full band, "in St. Louis it will be just me and John" Leventhal -- her husband, producer, guitarist and frequent co-writer.

"It's really fun for us to do this alone because we can really explore the nuances of the songs," she says. "It gets quieter, and the song moves more to the forefront. It's really cool, and I enjoy it and so does he."

When an artist talks about finding his or her voice or stepping out of a shadow, it's usually a metaphor. For Cash, it's much more literal. She is winding up a tumultuous several years that included her first and only duet with her father, recorded as his health was declining, as well as his death and that of June Carter Cash.

If that weren't enough, Rosanne Cash faced the possible end of her singing career when she was pregnant with her son Jake Leventhal. The blast of hormones produced by the pregnancy caused polyps to grow on her vocal chords, and Cash lost the ability to sing for almost three years.

"I'm glad it happened," she says by phone from her home in New York City, where she'd just gotten Jake off to kindergarten. "I don't think I could have said that a couple of years ago. But it was kind of a defining moment -- a moment that lasted 2 1/2 years. I found out how important my voice was to me and how important it is to be a singer, not just a writer. I had always thought writing was a key for me, and I had devalued being a singer."

But not being able to sing allowed her to stretch as a writer, "and that led to another world." Cash wrote two books -- "Bodies of Water" and "Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale" -- and is working on a third. She also has contributed essays and short fiction to various newspapers and magazines.

And, finally, the one-time Nashville rebel, who wore spiky purple hairdos and produced 11 No. 1 singles starting in the late '70s, is at peace with herself, her father and the burden of fame that she avoided for much of her life. As a young woman, Cash was wary of a career that would make her famous, because of what she had witnessed in her own family: divorce, addiction and related turmoil. Later, those things happened to her, too.

"My view has changed since I've gotten older," she says. "It's a natural progression, to be more accepting of your parents and be more comfortable in the way you identify with them and with the way you're different. In early adulthood, it's all about being different from them.

"I feel, now, that I'm incredibly proud and grateful to be part of this tradition in music. As far as fame goes, I don't even think about it anymore. I do my work, and if it gets public attention, I know how to handle it."