Country music singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash’s 2014 release, “The River & The Thread,” captured the attention of fans and music critics with songs that revisit some of the most important places in her family history. . She will perform that album during a Center for the Performing Arts performance on April 9.
“The River & the Thread,” which won three Grammy Awards in February, evokes the American South’s rich, historic landscape The songs portray a multigenerational cast of characters — including a Civil War soldier heading off to war in Virginia, a New Deal-era farmer in Arkansas and a present-day couple in Alabama — and explore her own family tree, including the Arkansas birthplace of her father, Johnny Cash. The album’s unique sound, which draws from country, blues, gospel and rock, reflects the soulful blend of music that traces its history to the region.
Cash recently spoke with the Weekender about the album, her family’s roots and where history is taking her.
Weekender: In recording the album, how did it feel to go back to your roots and revisit those very special places in your family’s history?
Cash: Going down South so many times in the last few years for various reasons opened my eyes — and heart — to the understanding that home and geography and connection to the people in your past are very big concepts, not just a string of facts. These were life-changing experiences. And they felt deeply familiar and resonant. ...Both my parents are Southerners, and my musical connections also tie me there. But I’ve never considered myself southern because I grew up in a very different South — Southern California.
Weekender: What artists left an early impression on you and influenced your music?
Cash: When I was young, I studied lyrics by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Joni Mitchell, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and, of course, my dad. In my 20s, I put myself around great songwriters and listened to them talk about their principles, work ethic, mechanics of songwriting and their love for the form, and it was tremendously inspiring.
Weekender: Throughout your career you’ve collaborated with a number of country legends, including Crowell, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Kristofferson and rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. Do you have a favorite memory from those experiences, and is there anyone you would like to work with that you haven’t?
Cash: For this record, we wanted all the guests to be from the South or connected to the South, given the theme of the record. Most of the guests were already friends — Kris Kristofferson is like my older brother. Of course we also tried to match artists with the right song. John Paul White’s haunting voice was just perfect for “Etta’s Tune.”
Weekender: What can audiences expect to hear in concert?
Cash: I am performing all of “The River and The Thread” and choosing songs from my older catalog to add to the show. I always perform “Seven Year Ache.” I went years without performing “Blue Moon with Heartache” and now I’m performing it again. I do some songs from “The List,” because people want to hear them. The other songs, I switch up.
Weekender: You also write short stories and penned two books, including your autobiography “Composed: A Memoir” in 2010. What has that process been like for you as compared to songwriting?
Cash: It’s all from the same pool. Writing prose is, I admit, more taxing, but it lets me expand on themes, let go of rhyme, find subtler melodies and use language in a different way. I do think I’ve become a better lyricist by writing prose. But I don’t separate the two. I’m a writer, period.
Weekender: As a musician, what has recording music and performing for an audience done for you personally and professionally? What goals do you still hope to achieve?
Cash: This has been a great year for me. I feel I wrote my best songs, made my best record, and it has been received in a way that has been deeply satisfying. The shows have been special for me. On a personal front, my daughter, Carrie, got married this past year and it was one of the greatest days of my life. Looking ahead, I am collaborating on writing with different people, singing as a guest on some records, and I wrote a piece for National Geographic about the Sunken Lands, which should be out later this year.