Rosanne Cash - The River & The Thread

Blue Note Records

Rosanne’s first album since her acclaimed covers set THE LIST, from four years ago, is a peach. Eleven southern vignettes which take the listener on a journey of sorts through America’s deep south— musically, historically and emotionally. All the songs are co-writes with husband John Leventhal, who also serves as producer, arranger and guitarist. Most of the offerings delve deep  into the real, adult meanings of life, love and spirituality as we know them. The songs are infused by Rosanne’s own life, being a child of the south, having been born in Memphis, Tennessee in the mid-1950s and later spending several years in Nashville before moving to New York almost 20 years ago.

This album seems the perfect blend between the literary singer-songwriter and the contemporary modern country singer with a dollop of Americana on top. This is emphasised by A Feather’s Not A Bird. The gentle acoustic slide opening soon segues into a melancholy hook filled travelogue down south with an insistent rhythm and melodic hints of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe. That is followed by Sunken Lands, named after the Arkansas area where her father, Johnny Cash grew up.  

With ominous doom-laden lyrics this has a subtle blues feel. Etta’s Tune is inspired by the time that Rosanne spent with long-time Tennessee Two bass player Marshall Grant’s widow Etta. Rosanne’s voice has a maturity and intensity that fill each song with nuances of emotional joy and heartache.
The sadness and resignation expressed in the vocal treatment, lyrical power and melodic movement of Tell Heaven is stark and moving. Its sombre steel guitar and calm guitar picking and ethereal background voices all enhance the overall dark beauty of this inspiring song.

The copy of the album I have has three ‘bonus’ tracks. Two Girls is a gentle, little narrative with a deep Louisiana vibe that is carried over into the evocative Biloxi, a deliciously sweet tune that tugs at your heartstrings, whilst Your Southern Heart makes you long for the innocence of days gone by. An album full of intricate storylines, colourful vocal work and stylistic diversity. Rosanne is joined by various friends and fellow musicians including Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Allison Moorer, Tony Joe White, Derek Trucks and others. But at the heart of the album is a true partnership between a wife and husband … the singer-songwriter doing what she loves with the one she loves. All her attributes, the haunting vocals, the inner storm she creates with her strong strumming on acoustic guitar, the powerful lyrics which are full of reality and hold pertinent messages and meanings. The world is truly upside down, but as long as this wonderful talent has a niche, a label and an audience, I don’t care.
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