After running down a remarkable roster of recent achievements, alt-country queen Rosanne Cash catches herself, stifles her enthusiasm and says, “Whoa — I must seem like the biggest dilettante in the world.”
But the lady has been busy. Her last all-covers effort, “The List” — inspired by a list of 100 country and western classics her late father Johnny Cash insisted she learn when she was drifting too far into rock back in the early 1970s — won Album of the Year at the Americana Awards, where she also presented her friend John Mellencamp with a Lifetime Achievement trophy.Cash — who plays the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival on Sunday — is already planning a second volume of “The List.”
But the dozen chestnuts she’s gathered on this set would’ve made the Man in Black proud, like the Jeff Tweedy-assisted “Long Black Veil,” “Silver Wings” with Rufus Wainwright, a duet with Bruce Springsteen on “Sea of Heartbreak,” and the Elvis Costello-backed “Heartaches by the Number.”
Costello figures into another prospective project as well, a collaboration with Kris Kristofferson that’s already begun with one recording, “April 5th.”
Cash just played the part of the mother in Mellencamp and Stephen King’s upcoming T Bone Burnett-produced retro-radio-play/CD, “The Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country.”
“Next up is this project with Billy Bragg and Joe Henry — we’re actually making a record together,” she says. “It took me months and months to get my label EMI to give me permission, but they just did. So we’ll be writing and singing together as a trio, and Joe will produce.”
Last, but not least is “Composed,” the moonlighting author’s witty, sometimes stark, memoir, which details the dark reason behind her sudden flurry of activity: After countless debilitating migraines, she was diagnosed with a rare but deadly condition that required immediate brain surgery in 2007.
“But my gallows humor got me through it,” says Cash, who horrified her family by singing “If I Only Had a Brain” on the way to the operating room.
Depression crept in during the first painful year of recovery. “But then I started thinking ‘What do I really want to complete?’ And one thing was my book, and the other was ‘The List,’” says Cash, 55. “Getting a hard look at my own mortality certainly focused my thoughts, and everything has taken on an urgency and a sweetness at the same time.”
But Cash remains upbeat. “My life has changed,” she says. “I hear things differently, and I’m not totally pain-free — I still get crushed by real bad headaches if there’s a storm coming. But I feel really lucky. I had something that they could fix!”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Where: Rooster Stage, Marx Meadow, John F. Kennedy Drive east of 30th Avenue, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday