(Columbia Records - 1987)
Produced by Rodney Crowell
A MULTI-FACETED ARTISTIC PEAK
A number of women have been nominated multiple times for the CMA's Female Vocalist Of The Year Award without a win: Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan, Anne Murray, Sara Evans, and others. Nominated five times between 1982 and 1988, Rosanne Cash arguably stands out as the most overlooked female artist who should have won the honor. Johnny Cash's eldest child carved out her unique brand of pop-country that combined elements of folk, blues and rock, scoring eleven number-one singles throughout the 80's.
Cash's 1985 album Rhythm & Romance was a smash hit, peaking at number-one on the country albums charts and earning her a Grammy for the chart-topping single "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me." However, it's her follow-up, 1987's King's Record Shop, that stands as her artistic triumph. Produced by then-husband Rodney Crowell, the album produced an impressive (for the era) four consecutive number-one singles: "The Way We Make A Broken Heart," "If You Change Your Mind," "Runaway Train," and "Tennessee Flat Top Box" (a cover of her father's 1961 hit). Crowell's production is pleasingly diverse, but the key to the album's success lies in its songwriting. Cash, Crowell and top-notch writers such as John Hiatt pieced together a satisfying collection of songs. Leadoff tune "Rosie Strikes Back" addresses domestic violence, urging its heroine to "hit the road and never look back." In contrast to Shania Twain's conversational style and Taylor Swift's diary entries, Cash dissects her emotions as if in therapy. "The Way We Make A Broken Heart" is a brutally critical and honest anatomy of an illicit affair. A relationship progressing much too quickly is expertly analogized in "Runaway Train," and she admits fears of a dying love in the poignant "The Real Me." Weakness has never been a Rosanne Cash trademark, and that tradition continues with "I Don't Have To Crawl," in which she boldy proclaims "I can just walk away" from a neglectful lover.
Cash's signature, open-book delivery and the album's thought-provoking lyrics leave no room for fluff, the closest thing being the rocker "Green, Yellow and Red." "If You Change Your Mind" and "Somewhere Sometime" hold up well as pop confections, while the acoustic instrumentation of "Tennessee Flat Top Box" is about the sweetest piece of country ear candy you may ever hear. The album's closer, "Why Don't You Quit Leaving Me Alone," is a haunting recap of a failed relationship, and it becomes more heart-wrenching with repeated listening.
Sadly, this was Cash's last studio album aimed squarely at a mainstream country audience. She shifted gears and turned to a more introspective folk style with later albums such as Interiors and The Wheel. Despite widespread criticism that country music had sold out to the pop market in the 80's, King's Record Shop shines as the best example of an artist balancing the two genres and maintaining complete musical integrity.
Interestingly, art director Bill Johnson won the 1988 Grammy for Best Recording Package Design; he photographed Cash in front of the real King's Record Shop, in Louisville, KY.
If you are unfamiliar with Rosanne Cash and you want to hear one of the best country albums from the 80's, then be sure to visit King's Record Shop.