We gave it a B
Someday, Rosanne Cash will discover her true self and blossom; until then, she seems intent on chronicling every painful step of the way. The latest example is 10 Song Demo, a set of rough-hewn home recordings that were intended for studio polish but were instead released by Cash and her label in unplugged form.
For her third consecutive studio album (following 1990’s Interiors and 1993’s The Wheel), the 40-year-old Cash’s subject is her post-country midlife crisis and her reinvention as a New York folkie. Even though she has relocated and remarried, her songs are riddled with self-doubt, whether about protecting her progeny (”Child of Steel”) or presenting herself, wrinkles and all, to her lover (”Take My Body”). As a songwriter, Cash often falls victim to poetry-of-rock flourishes (”Where is the church of my magic”). But unlike, say, Bruce Springsteen, she knows that bare-bones doesn’t mean tuneless. Demo‘s spare arrangements reinforce the sturdiness of her melodies.
Still, the album is another reminder of just how frustrating a talent Cash can be. A starkly confessional writer whose voice alternates between square-jawed determination and heart-melting emotivity, Cash has a masterpiece in her. 10 Song Demo isn’t it. The songs don’t mark a significant leap from the growth she revealed on Interiors and The Wheel. From its relentless wrist-slashing tone to its basement-tape sonics, the album presents Cash as the Jennifer Jason Leigh of folk pop — an increasingly humorless purist who risks painting herself into an artistic corner, no matter how much integrity she has. 10 Song Demo is commendable, but it also sells Cash, and her music, a little bit short.