ROSANNE CASH Interiors (Columbia/Legacy)

Maybe it’s an age and experience thing. I can easily envisage a younger me – specifically the one who used to flip quickly past “Interiors” in the CD racks during my regular Saturday morning pilgrimages to Manchester’s Central Library – dismissing “Interiors” as insubstantial, mildly countrified AOR. Yes, listened to from a distance this album has the kind of immaculate sheen that usually suggests more detailed investigation would not prove fruitful. Get closer, though, and you might find yourself championing “Interiors” as a work of wonder.

Substantially self-composed and produced, it unflinchingly takes a scalpel-sharp pen to Cash’s then-collapsing marriage to Rodney Crowell, probing weeping psychic wounds. Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis’ booklet essay, “A Cartography Of The Heart”, illuminates the album in a way that greatly aids its appreciation.

“On The Surface” lays bare the depths of emotional deception its author is party to, made even more devastating by the realisation that it’s Crowell she’s duetting with. Stark, real-world brutality intrudes on “This World”, and “What We Really Want” is desperate with miscommunication (“The woman in the mirror tonight wants to talk with your mirror man”). Whilst I’d be loathe to compare Rosanne’s music with that of The Blue Nile, there’s definitely a similarity to the reclusive Scottish trio’s “The Days Of Our Lives” in the piano intro to “Mirror Image”. However, where Paul Buchanan’s lyrics are the emotional equivalent of a straight wire, it seems as though Cash clings to the comforting distance of metaphor even as it hardly softens the raining emotional hammer blows her songs dispatch. There’s a dark edge of desperation to “I Want A Cure”, and memories of her parents fighting on the phone burn through “Paralyzed”. Behind all this an unobtrusively skilled band play crisp music that sounds like a barbed Mary Chapin Carpenter or early Deacon Blue minus the fledgling bombast.

A quartet of excellent bonus tracks – and it’s rare that I type those three words in such quick succession – round out this reissue. “Portrait”, inexplicably dropped from the album, further amplifies its examination of the space between perception and reality. Maybe Cash regarded lines such as “I thought I knew him/And now I see right through him” as too much of an emotional hot potato at the time. A cover of World Party’s paranoia-clouded “All Come True” meshes seamlessly with the album’s core concerns. A version of “This World” recorded on the Canadian programme “Hot Ticket” is a little fuzzy but fabulous, Cash peppering her performance with topical interjections such as “That includes little children in Bosnia”, and an acoustic “What We Really Want”, just her voice and John Leventhal’s guitar, finds its yearning defiance undimmed.

In the breakup album pantheon, it’s a given that nothing will topple the cracked poetry of “Blood On The Tracks”. Nevertheless, “Interiors” outpaces the rest of the pack (off the top of my head, “Face Value”, “Hearts And Bones”, “Tunnel Of Love”, “Shoot Out The Lights”). If it’s pop music, it’s a very rare, grown-up example of the form, and it deserves to be heard.

ROSANNE CASH Black Cadillac (Capitol/EMI)

The cover sticker on my copy of “Black Cadillac” says, breathlessly and somewhat disingenuously, “Tribute album to Johnny Cash from his daughter Rosanne Cash celebrate Oscar nominated movie Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line”. “Black Cadillac” is rather more than that. As the back of the booklet reads: “In memory of June Carter Cash June 23 1929-May 15, 2003, John R. Cash February 26 1932-September 12 2003, Vivian Liberto Cash Distin April 23 1934-May 24 2005”. That’s pretty much a whole family tree, stepmother, father and mother, felled in a little over two years. It’s hardly a wonder, then, that this mostly gentle, elegiac work pulses and bristles with a sense of loss and confusion and feelings of dislocation and impotence.

It’s Johnny Cash’s voice that opens the album and its title track, a foggy fragment of audio verite: funereal only in subject, Bill Bottrell’s production builds this most personal of songs into something powerful and universal, like U2 without the bombast, even quoting the mariachi trumpet figure from “Ring Of Fire” at its close. I’d pegged the more traditionally country “Radio Operator” as a reminiscence from Rosanne’s youth, she being “the girl in San Antone”, but a little internet research suggests it’s actually about her father’s time as a Morse code interceptor in the Air Force, the female figure being her mother. “I Was Watching You” seems to begin with the unborn Rosanne observing her parents’ wedding from some other place (“I was watching you from above/Long before life there was love”), twisting back on itself by the end to reveal her late father taking the mute witness role (“I’ll be watching you from above/Long after life there is love”). Although it’s hardly “Never Mind The Bollocks”, there’s some splenetic rage and grief channelled in the angry “Burn Down This Town” and “Like Fugitives”, which simmers through the verses and boils over on the choruses. From a lady who later claims “I wish I was a Christian” “God Is In The Roses” seems a gentle acceptance of the influence of some kind of higher power. Still, there are spiky moments concealed within the luxuriant, velveteen cocoon that constitutes much of “Black Cadillac”, for example the line “I will look for you in morphine and in dreams” concealed within “The World Unseen”. “Dreams Are Not My Home” may be the album’s greatest achievement, amongst many, a sense of certainties shaken and confounded leading up to a fabulous double whammy of a chorus. “World Without Sound”’s curious, almost burlesque brass arrangement lowers the listener’s guard, allowing the searing choruses to effect maximum impact, though lines like “I wish I was John Lennon/Free as a bird” might be open to interpretation given what happened to him. The album closes with “0:71”, 71 seconds of silence. Johnny Cash died at the age of 71.

Wonderful as “Interiors”, raved about elsewhere in this issue, is, “Black Cadillac” might be Rosanne Cash’s greatest achievement. As folk (or perhaps more accurately I) become obsessed with how popular music’s ageing pioneers deal with their advancing years, perhaps best typified by Bob Dylan’s 21st century renaissance as well as Cash Sr’s series of “American” recordings, “Black Cadillac” kind of pulls the rug from under all that rumination. Where in this traditionally youth-obsessed medium does an album about the death of your parents fit in? When musicians have addressed the subject, even briefly, it’s usually seemed a brave, sage move – consider Bob Mould’s anguished “My parents, they just wonder when they both are going to die/And what do I do when they die?” on Hüsker Dü’s “Hardly Getting Over It”. Well, here’s a whole album that tackles the time before, the events and the shattered afterworld head on. It will surely come to be viewed as a landmark release, and for me it’s already one of the finest records of 2006.