The River & the Thread
Yet another posthumous Johnny Cash album is being released this week. I considered reviewing this latest attempt to cash in on a great artist’s legacy with material that is probably lackluster, but I am in charge of writing the Top Ten list this week. Having already begun writing on Johnny Cash’s top ten songs, it would have been tough for me to fairly review his latest album, especially considering my preconceived biases against posthumous albums. Maybe Todd or Wes will pick up the slack and review Out Among the Stars, and if one of them does, we are going to have a very Cash-themed week. I decided to give Johnny’s eldest daughter, Rosanne Cash, a little love for a fantastic little album she put out in January that I never got around to writing on. Thus, begins the Week of Cash.
I can’t claim to be overly familiar with the work of Rosanne Cash, except maybe a song or two I’ve stumbled across over the years. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from digging into a full Rosanne Cash album. The first impression I got was the well-rounded nature of her sound. Like a lot of her father’s music, Rosanne’s music eschews any hard and fast genre classifications. The River & the Thread combines folk, country, and blues seamlessly throughout the album. No song is all one genre or the other, making for a pleasantly balanced listening experience.
“A Feather’s Not a Bird” would fit in seamlessly on any Steve Earle album if you drop the lyrics about “wearing a pretty dress.” It just has that perfect amount of attitude, aided by slide guitar, some well-placed strings and the self-assured if unspectacular vocals of Cash. Likewise, “When the Master Calls the Roll” has a title that screams tribute to Cash’s late father. Thematically, the religious overtones also tip their cap to Johnny, even if the tone is more folksy than he ever went.
There are a few moments where The River & the Thread is not as successful as the rest. “Night School” is just a little too spare for my tastes. It is pretty enough, even reminding me somewhat of St. Vincent’s “Champagne Year”, but it never quite takes off. “Money Road” is also a weird decision to be the album’s closer. The lyrics are more than solid, but it also suffers from never getting out from under the smooth smokey production.
I rarely mention bonus tracks, but this is a prime opportunity as any. Rosanne Cash’s cover of “Biloxi”, the Jesse Winchester classic, is beyond perfect. The drum percussion on this particular track heightens Cash’s vocals and the sparse guitar work to a level only to be described as ethereal.
It is a joy to come across country albums that don’t abide by all the standard country norms, and Rosanne Cash has achieved this beautifully on The River & the Thread. Screw Top 40 country, stay with the Cash family and you’ll be alright.
Can’t Miss: “When the Master Calls the Roll”, “A Feather’s Not a Bird”, “Biloxi”, “Etta’s Tune”
Can’t Hit: “Night School”, “Money Road”