Street Sounds: Cash mines her southern roots

Singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash’s 13th album, The River and The Thread, is a soulful recording devoted to southern-style Americana.

Singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash’s 13th album, The River and The Thread, is a soulful recording devoted to southern-style Americana.

Written with producer/instrumentalist  John Leventhal, Cash’s recording is casual and luminous but it’s heavy on the easy-flowing backwoods vibe.

Cash plays heavily on her southern heritage to a hazy, melodramatic effect on A Feather’s Not a Bird, a perfect opening track that sets up the mood for the album.  It’s a deep, vibrato-laden travelogue with Cash name checking Memphis and Arkansas in her offhand manner.

That theme recurs all through the recording.

Her darkly tinged voice has hints of the melodrama that informed dad Johnny Cash’s vocal. She never pushes it but that’s the draw of the music.  Her take on the country sound leans on Americana and has a moody, southern-gothic filtered lens.

Modern Blue is an example of the type of sound that Cash has been mining for years.  Melodic and effortlessly flowing, it’s another take on the world-weary traveller that she identifies with and sings convincingly about. She’s got the background and shows it.  Unfortunately the song finishes far too early.

All the songs on The River and The Thread are of classic length – they’re short (under four minutes) but have an unforced narrative and lulling quality.

As a singer/songwriter, Cash never wastes a note or overplays a pattern but she brings on the air of mystery that still clings to the older styles of mountain ballads and country-folk standards.

The Long Way Home and World of Strange Design are representative of her songwriting style: brief, visual songs moved by a slinky undertow. She folkifies that feeling on 50,000 Watts, a gospel-friendly track that recalls the groove of The Band.

Cash is a singer who doesn’t waste notes; every song is succinct and spins webs of mood effortlessly. This is a return to a time when albums were lean and full of purpose.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician based in Vernon, B.C. who reviews new releases for The Morning Star.