Published Jan 10, 2014On her 13th studio record in a remarkable career, Rosanne Cash sounds every bit the veteran that she is. Featuring 11 (or, on the deluxe edition, 14) dark, brooding story songs, each of them a tale of southern America in all of its contrary magnificence, The River and the Thread feels like a summation.
Frustratingly, the record seems somewhat sleepily produced by her husband John Leventhal. One wishes for more flourish to distinguish these songs from one another; the prominent bass softens the edges, leaving the music watery when it might've caught fire. Only here and there — a blistering guitar solo from guest musician Derek Trucks on "World of Strange Design" is a write-home-worthy standout moment — does the music match the quality of the haunted lyrics, sung with grace and aplomb by the woodsmoke-voiced daughter of the Man in Black.
Like a travelogue, or a roadmap of the American south, each song features another place name, another signpost along some mythical highway. And it is a dark journey she takes us on, down an eerie path.
Indeed, the river in the album title might just be the Tallahatchie. Referenced on the album closer "Money Road," this is the Mississippi conduit made famous in the 1967 Bobby Gentry masterpiece "Ode To Billie Joe" as the site of an obscure mystery and suicide, as well as the very waters into which Emmitt Till's young, ravaged body was dumped by his racist murderers in 1955. Up to you to find the thread. (Blue Note)