Rosanne Cash

10.20.14
Rosanne Cash
Chicago Reader

This past winter Rosanne Cash released The River & the Thread (Blue Note), her first album of original material in more than seven years—and one of the best that the Man in Black’s most famous daughter has made in a career stretching back to the late 70s. Several of the songs opt for a third-person perspective, in a break with her usual practice, but the music is highly personal, reflecting honestly but empathetically on the American south. Cash pays special attention to Arkansas, where she grew up; Mississippi, the wellspring of the blues and home to some of her literary heroes, including William Faulkner and Eudora Welty; and Memphis, where she was born, where her father made some of his greatest recordings, and where Marshall Grant, onetime bassist in Johnny’s original backing band the Tennessee Two, lived for many years (he became something of a surrogate father to her after Johnny died in 2003). Several songs address an unexpected return home after many years away, whether alive (“Modern Blue” and “The Long Way Home”) or in a casket (the Civil War solider reunited posthumously with his love in “When the Master Calls the Roll”), while others evoke the way we carry around a sense of a place wherever we go (on the bluesy opening track, “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” Cash sings, “A feather’s not a bird / The rain is not the sea / A stone is not a mountain / But a river runs through me”). In recent years Cash has fought through brain surgery and two operations to remove polyps from her vocal cords, but she sounds more forceful, full-bodied, and soulful than ever. Working with her husband, John Leventhal, who produced The River & the Thread and wrote the music to accompany her lyrics, Cash has hit a late-career sweet spot, combining her powers of observation and her broad grasp of American traditional music into a magnificently poetic vision.