On Rosanne Cash’s latest album The River and the Thread—her first new record in eight years—the veteran country music singer-songwriter proudly displays her virtuosic talents as a vocalist, lyricist, and a tasteful composer with an acute sense of how to use musical devices to keep her tunes interesting.
The themes of travel, love, and family dominate on The River and the Thread. Though none of these subjects are particularly foreign or original in the country music genre, the ways in which Cash addresses them allow her to stand out. On “World of Strange Design,” she convincingly embodies the voice of a xenophobic patriot in a way that makes him seem sympathetic without endorsing his statements. Cash earnestly writes from the perspective of a soldier leaving his lover behind in “When The Master Calls The Role.” When the soldier says, “I will never travel back to her / But not for lack of trying,” Cash’s words genuinely convey his sorrow and passion.
Cash’s vocal chops help to bring out the pathos evident in her language. Her husky contralto gives her lyrics a tough, world-weary feeling that allows her characters’ emotions to register prominently. When writing from her own perspective, as in “Etta’s Tune,” her voice carries a certain warmth that emphasizes the authentic nature of the feelings she expresses.
Cash also makes smart musical decisions that reveal her ability to maximize her songs. The jarring chord at the end of the chorus of “Modern Blue” interrupts the tune’s seemingly straightforward blues-rock feel to provide it with a new depth. Contributing guitarist Derek Truck’s (The Allman Brothers Band) fiery slide solo on “World of Strange Design” helps to further express the passions hinted at in her words. Renowned sitarist John Leventhal’s licks on “Money Road” show the possibilities of that instrument to present blues language without feeling ostentatious.
The River and the Thread reaffirms Rosanne Cash’s status as a master of country music, and wonderfully documents her many talents.