Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s daughter but a longtime New Yorker, looks South in her new CD
All roads lead South on the new Rosanne Cash CD.
Nearly every song name-drops a place below the Mason-Dixon line, from Nashville to Mobile to Mississippi to, most often, Memphis, a city that serves as a central character in no fewer than three of the pieces.
More, the lyrics allude to the Tallahatchie Bridge — made mythic by Bobbie Gentry’s Southern Gothic smash “Ode to Billie Joe” — and to Money Road, where, in 1955, black teen Emmett Till talked to a white woman, an innocent act that led to his murder at the hands of a racist mob.
That’s a lot of history to reference on one disc, but it’s not a legacy that belongs only in schoolbooks. As the daughter of, and most famous heir to, Americana legend Johnny Cash, Rosanne has the story of the South running in her veins. Even so, she has lived in the ultimate northern city — New York — for more than 20 years, evolving a style of music that strayed far from rootsy sounds into something more refined and universal.
“The River & the Thread”
On “The River & the Thread,” she means to shrink that distance. To do so, she fashioned a concept album about the attempt to integrate where you came from with who you have become.
The search comes at an interesting time for Cash. Her last two albums reacted to the death of her dad in 2003, first through the straight mourning of “Black Cadillac” in 2006, then three years later in “The List,” which featured covers of the songs her father admired most.
For her latest Southern sojourn, Cash has revived some of the twanging and bluesy sounds of her Nashville hit period of the 1980s — minus the Music Row slickness but with a different kind of gloss. Cash’s brands of country, folk and blues haven’t a trace of dirt under their fingers. It’s all careful, clean and elevated. One song, “Night School,” even verges on art song.
That makes sense. As a child of privilege, Cash can’t act like she was born in a holler. Instead, she translates the passion and specificity of roots music into her own graceful language. The tunes she wrote, with husband and producer John Leventhal, recall the prettier singer-songwriter efforts of the ’70s.
As always, Cash’s vocals aren’t brimming with character, but their tidiness suits her observational lyrics and considered personality. Together, they lead her home by a route laid out clearly enough to show just how far she strayed.