Her seven-year break
Rosanne Cash may be the daughter of Johnny Cash and step-daughter of June Carter Cash, two of country music's revered talents, but as a teen living with her mom in California, her mind was filled with the Beatles and Blind Faith, Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin.
It was not filled with dreams of writing songs and singing for a living. In her experience, performing took dads away from their families, and fame was something that tore them apart.
"I knew I wanted to write, but I didn't know how or what," she says. "I had a fierce ambition to discover my own life, to find out ... who I was gonna be and what I was gonna do."
Ms. Cash certainly didn't plan on spending the 1980s as a country star, pumping out 11 No.1 hits and winning a Grammy. But that familial calling proved too strong to resist. Before attending college, she joined her dad on the road as a backup singer. This eventually led to composing her own material - and to her latest album, "Rules of Travel."
Her first release in seven years, it explores the frustrations and fears of all relationships, employing metaphors that traverse both the heart's interior and the world at large. Like her other '90s albums, its sound is more folk/pop than country.
On it, she combines her strong, nuanced voice with those of guest singers Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle. Cash wrote most of the material herself or with her second husband, musician/producer John Leventhal.
"When I started writing songs I thought, 'This is a great profession, to write songs for other people,' " she says by phone from New York. "Then one thing leads to another. I make a demo of the songs, I get a recording contract.... I wake up 20 years later and I go, 'Oh, jeez, I'm a singer!' "
Cash and her first musician/producer husband, Rodney Crowell, created gems like "Seven Year Ache." But, despite her lineage and their track record, Nashville shunned them because they refused to fit the country mold. Instead they mixed influences, including rock, into what was then a revolutionary sound that became known as alternative country.
After her marriage fractured, Cash fled to New York, where she now lives with Leventhal, three daughters from her first marriage, a stepdaughter, and her 4-year-old son.
Motherhood wasn't the only delay for the album. Cash also lost her voice because of a throat polyp that took two years to disappear.
Her father's health problems and advancing age prompted Rosanne to write "September When It Comes," which they perform together on the album. Though he inspired the song, she says, "I didn't intend to sing it with him." (Leventhal talked her into it.) Surprisingly, father and daughter had recorded almost nothing together.
Then, unexpectedly, June Carter Cash passed on this spring. She left behind "Wildwood Flower," which will be released Sept. 9. In Rosanne's liner notes, she says the album chronicles June's membership in country's pioneering Carter Family and captures her grace, humor, insight; her roles as wife and mother; her quiet pride in making music history, and her timelessness.
The true measure of June's - and Johnny's - influence on Cash is that the same words could be used to describe her.