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The River & The Thread is Rosanne Cash’s first record since 2009’s highly acclaimed release The List. With most all but Jimmy Buffett's “Biloxi” the songs are originals written by Cash and her long time collaborator and husband, John Leventhal not only is it a tightly woven affair, lyrically and otherwise. Plus, through her attention focussed on the lives of other Americas and locations much of the darkness often present in her music is forgone. Cash’s music is given a greater freedom as songs, and music too as blues of her birthplace (Memphis), her father’s (Johnny Cash) southern roots (Dyess, Arkansas), rock, gospel and swampy blues too merge. Old cotton plantations, murder and Mississippi Delta (the winding Mississippi being the river part in the title) also came into the equation. The thread comes from Cash's friend, Natalie Chanin who is a seamstress in Florence, Alabama; and who told Rosanne as she taught her to sow of how you had to love the thread. The term The River and The Thread gains a mention in the opening song of what is the 16th album (she also has four books to her name) from a truly remarkable woman. Don't be at all surprised it this piece of work doesn't earn her another Grammy! I wont.
Many of the ideas for the songs came after Leventhal and Cash went south to help with the raising funds to purchase her father’s boyhood home by Arkansas State University, and spent time in the south. Visiting writer William Faulkner's house, bluesman Robert Johnson’s grave, the Dockery Farms; the plantations where Howlin’ Wolf and Charley Patton among many more worked and sang for their fellow workers on a saturday night. Plus, there is a diversion to America’s Civil War, and how like with her forebears that had family members fighting on both sides is the subject of attention on “When The Master Calls The Roll”. As for the playing, it is not only top class but inspirational with Rosanne Cash up for the challenge to make one of her best records, ever.
Musicians taking part in the venture include Cory Chisel. Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, Kris Kristofferson, Allison Moorer, John Prine, Derek Trucks, John Paul White (The Civil Wars), Tony Joe White and Gabe Witcher (The Punch Brothers). Her opening piece, “A Feather’s Not A Bird” with its full-on bluesy tones followed by her beautiful singing of a mandolin etched “The Sunken Lands” (her father’s boyhood home and how the low lying farm, cotton fields et al were all under threat from flooding) and with a pumped up rhythm section, harmony vocal aided look at the world “Modern Blue” shows off her hip side. “The Long Way Home” is a reflective piece, and with her voice in great nick the listener can’t help but walk each and every step with her.
With 14-tracks in all it is difficult as to what sticks out and needs an early listen, but “World Of Strange Design” with its freedom of expression and flair strikes a blow for southern music. As funky guitar (rhythm) a little mystique has Cash in adventuress mood. Oh, yes you must take a listen to “50,000 Watts” as Rosanne huddles (with friends) round an old radio for music to warm the soul, it being a time, Sunday when radio was your main contact with the outside world and what a huge part was played by music. “Money Road” was pulled from Bobbie Gentry’s Tallahatchie Bridge and Money Road and abandoned grocery store where in 1955, a 14-year old Emmett Till reportedly flirted with a white woman. Which was to lead to his tragic murder and, like with a few more horrific deeds like it helped ignite the Civil Rights movement. While Marshall Grant who she called her 'surrogate dad' and was in her father's famed band, The Tennessee Two died recently is remembered in the song “Etta's Tune”. Grant's widow, Etta with whom Rosanne spent some time after his death is sure to be well pleased with the song and the listener too such being Cash's beautiful vocal performance (arguably the best on the record).
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