The opening strains of Feather's Not a Bird from Roseanne Cash's new album The River and The Thread gives an indication of the murky dark waters that you are about to immerse yourself in. It's an album that captures the darkness and mystery of the Mississippi river as it winds it's way through the deep south, washing through the Delta, snaking it's way around Memphis and further south towards the shoals. It's a river that inspires, it's a storyteller with tales of a wonderful spirit against the backdrop of violence and unrest. It's also a deeply personal story of Cash's own musical journey often referencing a return to Memphis which appears to be her musical centre rather than the bright lights of Nashville. Musically it's diverse, low down bare blues, wistful country and acoustic folk sounds that weave in and out of the stories. On Feathers Not a Bird Cash sings about the mystery of the south,
I'm going down to Florence, gonna wear a pretty dress
I'll sit on top the magic wall, with the voices in my head
Then we'll drive on through Memphis, past the strongest shores
And on to Arkansas to touch the crumbled soul.
The mournful Sunken Lands tells the story of the hard life in the cotton fields, the mud and the tears. Cash has this innate ability to convey a deep sense of melancholy in a similar vein to her father. Modern Blue has a more polished Nashville sound, revolving around the theme of looking over your shoulder, as Cash affirms
I went to Barcelona on the midnight train
I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain
I flew across an island in the Northern Sea
And I ended up in Memphis Tennessee.
The city of Memphis looms large across this album, it sounds very much like a spiritual home to Cash, her search for something solid continually takes her back to the river and the town that has benefited most from it's dark and swirling mysteries. The Long Way Home with it's dark musical shadows talks of dark highways and long country roads, as the heavy southern rain beats down. There is some brilliant low down bluesy picking on this track, Cash is such an amazing storyteller there is something very literal about each song, they connect like chapters in a southern gothic novel. Night School is another story that drips with the heat of a southern summer,
Morbid like a mystery town
Water, heat and moon
Steam under Magnolia trees
Never ending roads.
50,000 watts is a beautiful tribute to Nashville radio station WLAC, a station that was famed for it's 50,000 watt tower that spread the blues far and wide across the U.S and into Canada on a clear night. It's a song drenched in country soul and some very soulful backing vocals.
It's a hard road but it fits your shoes
Son of rhythm, brother of the blues
The sound of darkness, the pull of oak
Everything is broken and painted in smoke
But there's a light on Sunday, a new design
The sound of the whistle, those radio wires
Love in your future, I'll wait for you there
Put 50,000 watts of a common prayer.
The River and The Thread is an album that has a very literate feel, it comes across as a musical version of a William Faulkner style story. Each story is centred around the dark highways and country roads of the deep south, it's connected to the raging muddy waters of the Mississippi River that bought so much inspiration but bore so much pain to the people south of the Mason Dixon.