Rosanne Cash has recorded 14 albums, with 11 number one singles and 11 Grammy nominations (with one award) including two for her latest album The List. She wrote the bestselling memoir Composed, a collection of short stories, Bodies of Water, and a children’s book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale. Her essays and fiction have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and New York, among others. She is writing an album about the South with husband and longtime collaborator, Grammy award-winning producer and musician John Leventhal. You can follow her on Twitter here.
The opening track on The Mystery of Heaven, a collaboration between filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and avant-garde composer Jozef Van Wissem, sounds like Ennio Morricone and Brian Eno got in a fight while writing the music for a spaghetti western. I don’t say that to be dismissive — it’s actually an interesting prospect. The Eno-like hypnotic repetition and the Morricone-like cinematic expansiveness, underscored by aggressive (and slightly out of tune) distortion (the “fight” part) have a lot of potential.
This is a relentless record. It starts ponderous and dark and never lets up. I hate to say these songs are “soundscapes” because it sounds so wanky, but even the song with the most narrative potential, the spoken word piece by guest artist Tilda Swinton, “The More She Burns the More Beautiful She Glows,” is as impressionistic as the instrumentals. Casting Swinton is an inspired choice. She provides a resonant sense of authority, and brings the intelligence in which she infuses her film characters. Her performance reminds me of her role in Orlando, one of my favorite films of all time, in which she lives from Tudor England to the present, the same soul in different bodies. Her familiarity with immortality may have been a deciding factor in casting her to recite “The More She Burns…,” as, according to Jarmusch, the record explores ideas of life after death.
There are some moments in The Mystery of Heaven that have aching beauty and remind me of the superb guitarist William Ackerman. And then there are some moments that are painful in their disharmony — there is a low-frequency dissonance that appears regularly that caused me actual physical discomfort.
This isn’t a record I would return to often for pleasure, but it’s a thoughtful record, and I appreciate that. I think of The Mystery of Heaven like the French art film Last Year at Marienbad — I’m glad I saw it, and there are moments that stay in my memory, and moments of splendor, but I don’t know if I need to see it again.