Release Date: Jan 14, 2014
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Country, Folk, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Contemporary Country
Now in her late 50s, Cash’s recent musical output continues to focus on the rich heritage of American folk and country. Her last album, 2009’s The List, comprised songs chosen from a list of 100 that famous father Johnny gave her when she was 18, to expand her knowledge of the form. There are no covers this time round but, with guitarist husband John Leventhal, she’s co-written a collection of tracks that evocatively acknowledge the past.
Like a good claret or damp moss, Rosanne Cash’s singing is something to sink into. Surrender to the tones—mostly dark, but marked by the occasional glimmer of light—and let the emotions they contain seep inside. For Cash, the emotions on The River & The Thread are complex and tangled. Beyond what she sings about—the ghost of Emmett Till on the haunting “Money Road,” the widow of The Tennessee Three’s bassist Marshall Grant on the acoustic-picked “Etta’s Tune,”—there is the Grammy-winner’s own difficult relationship with the South, her roots and her own musical journey.
Although Rosanne Cash’s latest album contains only 11 songs and lasts just under 40 minutes, the singer songwriter makes you feel you have taken a long journey. It’s a road album, where sometimes the driver leaves the blacktop and takes the rocky gravel path to see what’s there. Cash’s conceit is that one has to look outward to see what’s inside.
The third album by Roseanne Cash following the death of her parents a decade ago proves to be the stand-out of a loose trilogy. Asked to help preserve the Arkansas childhood home of her father Johnny, Cash found herself drawn into southern history, with a psycho-geographical album the outcome. The Sunken Lands describes the dirt poor fields where her father toiled, Money Road visits the Tallahatchie bridge of Bobby Gentry's song, and World of Strange Design touches on religious fervour.
All roads lead South on the new Rosanne Cash CD. Nearly every song name-drops a place below the Mason-Dixon line, from Nashville to Mobile to Mississippi to, most often, Memphis, a city that serves as a central character in no fewer than three of the pieces. More, the lyrics allude to the Tallahatchie Bridge — made mythic by Bobbie Gentry’s Southern Gothic smash “Ode to Billie Joe” — and to Money Road, where, in 1955, black teen Emmett Till talked to a white woman, an innocent act that led to his murder at the hands of a racist mob.
Nearly eight years after Rosanne Cash last released a set of original songs, 2014's The River & the Thread finds her in a reflective mood, and just as 2009's The List saw her looking back with a set of classic songs recommended by her father, the late country legend Johnny Cash, The River & the Thread is dominated by thoughts and emotions that occurred to her as she was involved in a project to restore Johnny's boyhood home. This doesn't mean that Cash has returned to the spunky, country-accented sound of her most popular work -- this is still Rosanne Cash the mature and thoughtful singer/songwriter we've come to know since the late '90s, and the tone of this album is unfailingly literate. But though this music isn't country, it's certainly Southern, and road trips from Alabama to Tennessee, visits to the Tallahatchie Bridge and Money Street, and vintage gospel music on the radio embroider these songs as Cash immerses herself in the places that were once close to home as if she's reuniting with long lost family.
The River & the Thread sees Rosanne Cash fully immersed geographically and emotionally in her homeland, tracing a musical map to illuminate her journey. Drawing on a variety of musical forms rooted in the southern states, the album goes far beyond a conventional country record, meshing elements of blues, rock, country, and gospel into a soulful and believable melange. This collection of 11 songs penned by Cash and her husband, producer, arranger, and guitarist, John Leventhal, is unified by the common theme of travel as a lever for discovery and reflection.
On her 13th studio record in a remarkable career, Rosanne Cash sounds every bit the veteran that she is. Featuring 11 (or, on the deluxe edition, 14) dark, brooding story songs, each of them a tale of southern America in all of its contrary magnificence, The River and the Thread feels like a summation.Frustratingly, the record seems somewhat sleepily produced by her husband John Leventhal. One wishes for more flourish to distinguish these songs from one another; the prominent bass softens the edges, leaving the music watery when it might've caught fire.
Rosanne Cash has lived in New York City since the early 1990s, more than a third of her life. She grew up — from roughly the age of 3 to 18 — in Southern California. But it is the South — largely by virtue of her last name — that she will probably always be most associated with. Her father was born in Arkansas, her mother in San Antonio, and she was born in Memphis, the same year her dad laid down his first recordings with Sam Phillips.
Rosanne Cash underwent something of an artistic renewal with 2006’s “Black Cadillac,” which is an odd thing to say considering that album was borne out of loss following the deaths of her father (Johnny Cash), mother (Vivian Liberto), and stepmother (June Carter Cash). Confronting her grief head on, that record grabbed you by the collar, as if to remind you that Cash, once a rising star in 1980s commercial country music, had arrived on her own terms free from the constraints of radio and major labels. Since “Black Cadillac,” Cash’s work has carried a noticeable gravitas, even when the material was lighter, such as 2009’s “The List,” on which she interpreted country songs her father had deemed essential.
Rosanne Cash The River & the Thread (Blue Note) Rosanne Cash produced some of her best work over the past decade, songs wrought in the specter of grief and memory after the loss of her mother, outlaw father, and step-mother. 2006's Black Cadillac grappled with those deaths, while 2009 covers LP The List is a celebration of the personal impact of her dad, Johnny Cash. The River & the Thread now finds the veteran Nashville singer-songwriter reconciling her Southern heritage, crafting songs of immense detail and emotion that rake across the roads of her upbringing.
How the hell is it possible for an artist like Rosanne Cash to continually top herself? That’s a question that’s been well worth pondering throughout Cash’s career, and while having a certain familial DNA may have a lot to do with it, there’s clearly more to it than that. Boasting a steady collaborator like producer/guitarist/songwriting partner John Leventhal may help provide explanation as well, but inevitably it would be unfair not to credit Cash herself with the grit and resolve needed to command such consistently compelling efforts. Indeed, when Cash and Leventhal previewed The River & The Thread live at last September’s Americana Music Festival, it was pretty obvious to all present that they had come up with another masterpiece.
Major Lazer, Apocalypse Soon EP Diplo's Major Lazer project lends itself to the EP format. Its spastic, booty-shaking, dancehall-tinged music is best in brief doses, and it usually struggles when it is tasked to maintain momentum and attention for thirty-plus minutes. I'm disappointed, then, that Apocalypse Soon struggles to keeps things interesting over its modest seventeen minute run.