Rhythm & Romance was recorded in 1984 and issued in 1984, almost three years after Somewhere in the Stars. Rhythm & Romance is significant in a number of ways -- besides its obvious quality as a piece of popular art. Foremost, it's the first recording that really showcases Rosanne Cash as a songwriter. Of the ten tracks here, she wrote six and co-wrote two others. This is the beginning of a new path in her career, which remains to this day, where she writes all of her own material. Secondly, it's the first record she made without producer/husband/songwriting partner Rodney Crowell (who was busy making his own breakthrough record, Diamonds & Dirt), David Molloy, and David Thoener. Thirdly, even after a nearly three-year absence and with a radical -- by country standards -- cover, the album topped the charts and charted two singles (in those days almost a unheard of). Lastly, she used musicians who were from the L.A. studio scene rather than Nash Vegas stalwarts, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboard ace Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers among them. Vince Gill also began to emerge from the shadows on this set as a solid singer and guitarist in his own right.
But it's the material that makes any record. First there's Cash's sultry, sexual "Hold On" (which hit the number one spot) with its loping vocal and wanton ache, then there's "Second to No One," with its gorgeous melody, scathing autobiographical lyric, and shimmering acoustic guitars. The keyboard-driven "Halfway House," with its '50s rock melody filtered through '80s new wave riffing, where the guitars move into overdrive on the refrains, is a startling exercise in pushing the envelope. The stunning "Never Gonna Hurt," all hard rock guitars playing a Warren Zevon-esque "Werewolves of London"-type riff, is remarkable in how tough and snotty it is. Remarkable in every way, Rhythm & Romance stands the test of time as an expertly conceived and executed collection of songs that reveals a songwriter in full command of her talent and a singer at the peak of her powers -- for whom the restraints of Nashville had become to tenuous to contend with for much longer.