REVIEW: Composed

I have a strange sort of (one-way) relationship with the musical Cash family. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Johnny Cash’s A Thing Called Love when I was 10 years old. The first concert I ever attended was a free concert in 1974 by Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, at the baseball stadium in Davenport, Iowa. The first album I ever checked out at the library was Rosanne Cash’s Seven Year Ache in 1981. The first concert I ever reviewed professionally was Johnny Cash again, this time in 1987 at the Masonic Temple in Davenport. Four years later, the Man in Black was one of the first celebrities I ever interviewed in person.

So what I’m saying is that I’m a big fan of both Johnny and his supremely talented daughter, Rosanne. For that reason, I was eager to read Rosanne’s memoir, Composed. I knew from listening to her songs that she is an intelligent, thoughtful writer, perhaps not the stereotype most people have of a country singer-songwriter. In that sense, Composed did not disappoint. Cash is candid without being indiscreet; you won’t read any dirt about her first husband, singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, or get the nitty-gritty on the collapse of their marriage. But while she is respectful of other people’s privacy, she does not hesitate to share her own actions and reactions. In particular, the chapter where she chronicles all of the losses she experienced over the course of a year — her mother, her stepsister, her stepmother June Carter Cash, and of course her father — is a harrowing portrait of grief.

It’s not surprising that a writer like Rosanne Cash would write such an emotionally open memoir, but Composed is also a first-rate look at her musical career and the stories behind each of her albums, and some of her most well-known songs. The combination added up to a fascinating portrait of an artist throughout her life.

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