The good word for fans is that the "new" Rosanne Cash sounds pretty much like the old Rosanne Cash. Her distinctive mahogany voice is still sonorous and intimate, and her tunes continue to provide glimpses into a dense, mournful interior landscape. Cash's husband, guitarist John Leventhal, provides rich backdrops for her lyrics, and together they've created as baroque and hypermelodic a release as any from her early L.A.-meets-Nashville heyday. Even for the faithful, though, Cash may rank as a guilty pleasure, a soft-pop chanteuse with a penchant for gooey confessions and lavish studio production. Yet she also combines a knack for composing catchy hooks with an emotional directness that is as flattering to the listener as it is disarming.
As autobiography, Rules of Travel is inscrutable and allusive, Cash having learned the hard way, years ago, the pitfalls of wearing your heart on your sleeve while standing under the public spotlight. The songs seem sung in a private, foreign language -- inviting, pleasant to the ear, but only slowly revealing their hidden meanings. One exception is "September When It Comes," a duet with her ailing father, country legend Johnny Cash, in which she sings of lengthening shadows and he of closing his eyes and crossing into new lands -- a surprisingly direct reference to his struggle with the degenerative Shy-Drager Syndrome. Yet while Cash mourns in advance the loss of her dad, many will cheer her return to the music business with this life-affirming album.