Rosanne Cash Can’t Resist: “God Help The Girl”

Cashlogo100dUnless you’ve spent the last 50 years cryogenically frozen in deep space, you may have heard of Rosanne Cash‘s father, Johnny Cash. When Rosanne locked in on becoming a successful country singer/songwriter, she had a formidable set of footsteps to follow. But she isn’t one to duck a challenge. Twenty of her singles cracked the top 20 in the country charts from 1979 to 1990, with 11 reaching the number-one spot. Her new album, The List (out next week on EMI/Manhattan), is a terrific reworking of country classics, handpicked from a list of indispensable songs her dad made for her 36 years ago. Having Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright appear as guest artists on the record is a nice fit. Rosanne will be guest editing all week long. Read our Q&A with her.


Cash: God Help The Girl is a concept record written by Stuart Murdoch of Scottish indie band Belle And Sebastian. He said he heard these women’s voices in his head and wrote a story and songs and individual characters for them. He intends this to be a film eventually, but so far, just the record exists. I have always been extremely partial to concept records, starting with Tommy through my dad’s Ballads Of The True West, Lou Reed’s Magic And Loss, right up to God Help The Girl. A single narrative in one album is very exciting, if done well. God Help The Girl is orchestral, sweeping—it references ’60s girl groups, ’80s indie music and Broadway musicals, as well as classic, Bacharach-like pop. The story—of a girl shortly after being released from a psychiatric hospital, and the attendant angst and searching—is a compelling idea, but it seems to be still in process. There are no neat endings or very many lessons learned, or even a strong narrative arc. You feel that the film to come is going to crystallize the theme and the character development. I’m content to wait, as the record alone is very satisfying. Murdoch held auditions and a contest to recruit some of the singers on the record. Much fuss has been made about Catherine Ireton, an Irish singer who has a lovely, expressive voice and carries the lead on several tracks, but the real revelation for me is young unknown singer Brittany Stallings, from Olympia, Wash., who won a contest on iMeem to sing the lead on the fabulous “Funny Little Frog.” If I’ve listened to this track once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. I can’t even describe what a thrill it is to hear a girl without any of the post-Britney Spears affectations and hiccups that are so irritatingly popular with young women singers. Stallings has a classic, rich voice, full of longing and rhythm ‘n’ blues, with a magnificent range and absolutely no self-consciousness. Her voice gives me hope for the future of recorded music, and I’m not kidding. How could she have escaped the poisonous influence of all those marginally talented but deeply mannered female voices of the last decade? Did she grow up in a box, with no conduits to vapid popular culture, listening to Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples and Julie London? If so, I commend Stallings for her singularity and restraint—and her parents for providing that box.

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