Cash: 'The South is a prism of music and revolution.'
Sometimes a change of scenery can yield unexpected revelations. For Tennessee native Rosanne Cash and her husband, John Leventhal, recent journeys to the South were more than just a chance to check out the sights. The trips opened their eyes to the power and spirit of the region. On Nov. 21 at the Stoughton Opera House, the couple will play songs from The River and the Thread, an album that grew out of their travels.
Isthmus chatted with Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash, via email to learn more about the album.
Isthmus: Why do you think the South has such power to move people? Did you feel its impact immediately when you visited recently?
Cash: Yes, it's an impact that is immediately felt, at least for me and John. I think the South is a huge part of our national personality and part of how we know ourselves as Americans. The fact that William Faulkner lived just down the road from Robert Johnson, who was just down the road from where Emmett Till was killed, near where Eudora Welty and Howlin' Wolf and Charlie Patton lived... and that's just Mississippi.
Look at the musical stew that is Memphis. Alabama: Muscle Shoals. Appalachia: the birth of modern country music. If you are at all moved by the blues, Southern gospel, Appalachian, soul, country pop or rockabilly music... you owe something to the South. The South is a prism, and it looks out through a prism -- of music and literature, violence, redemption, revolution, oppression, beauty -- that is so very particular.
How does this album fit into your songwriting history?
I do think these are my best lyrics and that the narratives and characters and geographical touchstones in the songs connect everything before, and probably after, in my songwriting life.
Cory Chisel, one of the album's contributors, is from Wisconsin. Why did you choose him?
I adore Cory. I first heard his voice in a record store [Pet Sounds] in Stockholm. I performed at the Americana Music Awards, and we met at a bar after the show. I loved him from the first, like a little brother.
I knew I wanted his voice on the record, but John and I had a rule that all the guests had to be Southerners or be connected to the South in some obvious way. I was trying to finesse that since he was from Wisconsin, but then he moved to Nashville. Boom.
Your husband accompanied you on your journeys down South and produced the album. How did he influence the direction of the album?
He produced, arranged and cowrote all the songs. This is a true collaboration. We painted this together, start to finish. As someone said, "this record sounds like a marriage." It does to me as well.
What's your favorite memory from visiting Wisconsin?
My manager, Danny Kahn; my husband, John; and his sister, Jill, all went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Jill and her family live in Madison.... I'm a Wisconsin-in-law.