From “No Memories Hangin’ Around,” a 1979 duet with Bobby Bare, to her current work as a socially-conscious veteran performer, Rosanne Cash songs have upheld the proud family name of her father, Johnny Cash.
Just as her famous dad went from upbeat Memphis rockabilly to the Man in Black persona, Rosanne started as more of a pop-friendly singer before co-writing the Americana songbook. Along the way, work with her ex-husband Rodney Crowell and other producers and songwriting partners have allowed the singer-songwriter to evolve from a new wave-friendly pop performer to an important voice among modern traditionalists.
Think of this more as a primer than a definitive list of Cash’s best songs, considering she’s been great for about 40 years and shows no signs of stopping. This roundup skips great American cover songs off The List, such as Hank Cochran’s “She’s Got You,” Ray Price’s “Heartaches By the Number,” Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” Hank Williams’ “Take These Chains From My Heart,” blues standard “Motherless Children,” folk revival standard “500 Miles,” expanded Cash family standard “Underneath the Weeping Willow” and famed murder ballad “Long Black Veil.” Nor does it mention the Tom Petty-penned “Never Be You,” the more traditional-sounding “Runaway Train,” a ’80s country version of the Beatles’ “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and the upbeat “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” which sounds equal parts Cash and Carter.
10. “The Way We Make a Broken Heart”
Let’s begin with one of multiple picks from King’s Record Shop, a 1987 album that signaled Cash’s shift from a twangy new waver to a neo-traditionalist. Upbeat vibes get replaced by a little Spanish-inspired country flavor.
9. “What We Really Want”
Cash slows things down and allows her vocal talents to shine on this overlooked cut off her self-produced 1990 album Interiors.
8. “If You Change Your Mind”
A hit off King’s Record Shop, there’s a definite Memphis rock undertone on this number one single. That vibe is way more Roy Orbison than Johnny Cash.
7. “It’s Such a Small World” (With Rodney Crowell)
Ex-spouses Cash and Crowell collaborated on countless great recordings in the ’80s, including this 1988 cut. They reconvened their musical partnership as recently as 2017 for Crowell’s Close Ties album.
6. “Sea of Heartbreak” (With Bruce Springsteen)
Rosanne Cash magically makes Springsteen sound more like Vince Gill with this gentle duet that revises an often-covered song that dates back to a 1961 Don Gibson single.
5. “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
This one’s the centerpiece of 2014’s multi-Grammy winner The River & The Thread. Cash’s current husband John Leventhal co-wrote and produced the song, continuing a working relationship that dates back to 1993’s The Wheel and includes the memorable albums Rules of Travel (2003) and Black Cadillac (2006), featuring the brilliant “Like Fugitives.”
4. “Blue Moon With Heartache”
A common thread on Cash’s early albums was upbeat songs with sad lyrics. For example, check out “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” which is like honky-tonk heartbreak meets the peppy Cyndi Lauper. In this case, the song’s sad vibe matches its heartbreaking message.
3. “September When It Comes” (With Johnny Cash)
It’s tempting to keep Cash family collaborations out of this to set Rosanne’s talents and recordings apart from her dad’s. Yet it’s undeniable that this rare chance to hear two generations together is special.
2. “Seven Year Ache”
The crowning achievement of Cash’s first career phase as a pop-oriented singer with a Southern accent remains this story about drinking away heartache at the local watering hole.
1. “Tennessee Flat Top Box”
While most of Rosanne’s music can be easily separated from the sound of her famous father, her finest moment came when she brought new life to the Man in Black’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box.”