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A lyrical love letter to the American South.
on 17 January 2014
"The River & The Thread", the first release of new material in nearly a decade by singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash is a wonderful "travelogue" through the South. After having listened to this album, I thought: Wow! Her late father Johnny Cash would have been so proud of her. Of course, I should mention that you need to listen to this album multiple times to be able to truly appreciate it as this is not a musical "quickie", so to speak. Take your time, sit back, close your eyes and really listen so you can immerse yourself in these wonderful songs.
This album is not something you can easily put a music-label on as it has elements of country, folk, bluesy soul, jazz and pop/rock. These personal songs are lyrical stories about her travels in the Deep South of the USA put to music, using her wonderful voice to paint word-pictures as she examines what it means to be a Southern American. Rosanne Cash wrote the album's 11 original songs with her longtime collaborator and husband John Leventhal, who also served as producer, arranger and guitarist.
"A Feather's Not A Bird", the opening song of the album, and which reminded me of Creedence Clearwater Revival, is a great example of Rosanne's mixing of styles. "Sunken Lands", named for the area where Johnny Cash grew up, is a nice harmonic ditty, and "Etta's Tune" is an ode to Etta and Marshall Grant, Marshall being a longtime family friend and member of Johnny Cash's band. The catchy "Modern Blue" has a strong Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne-vibe and the hymn-like "Tell Heaven" is a meditation on longing and loneliness.
Next is the moody Southern pop song "The Long Way Home", about memories of her father and her time in Tennessee, which is followed by "World Of Strange Design" with its catchy country chorus. "Night School" evokes the mood of a nursery rhyme while the bluesy "50,000 Watts" with its gospel overtones is one of my favorites. Another great song is "When the Master Calls The Roll", a tale of love torn apart during the Civil War with elements from gospel and Irish folk (and based on two of Cash's relatives from the Civil War era).
Cash finishes with "Money Road", an evocative song about a road in Mississippi where you find the grave of blues legend Robert Johnson; the grocery store where in 1955 the black youth Emmett Till supposedly flirted with a white woman and was hanged for that offence; and the Tallahatchie Bridge, which features also in "Ode To Billie Joe," Bobbie Gentry's 1967 hit about two lovers who drop something forever mysterious off that bridge.
Rosanne Cash is an outstanding singer-songwriter, making every word and every note count, with a crystalline voice that fits perfectly with her style of music. As I said at the start of this review, take your time as you listen to "The River & The Thread", as these songs are threaded together into one cohesive work that should be listened to from front to back in its entirety without interruptions. Recommended!