Tag Archives: 2014 music releases

Modern Blue

Music Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’

river and the thread front

Rosanne Cash’s latest release illustrates how the label of country singer is far too limiting for a person of her talents. Perhaps she can be called a modern musician.

Here’s a look at the songs on The River & The Thread, which was produced and arranged by her husband, John Leventhal.

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“A Feather’s Not a Bird” is a fine opening, as a Bonnie Raitt style attitude meets Creedence Clearwater Revival type instrumentation. It’s clear that there’s nothing tentative about Cash. She’s confident and in charge as she sings, “…a river runs through me.” “Sunken Lands” is unique as a blend of classic and modern country built upon a Johnny Cash pulse.

“Etta’s Tune” is an introspective love song that might have been written by Jackson Browne: “We’re just a mile or two from Memphis/And the rhythm of our lives.” One can easily visualize Tom Petty singing Cash’s rocker, “Modern Blue”: “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/I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee….” There’s also a touch of the Eagles in the lyrics: “Everybody around here moves too fast/It feels so good but it’s never going to last/Everything I had is twice what I knew….”

“Tell Heaven” is an unplugged song about faith. The Judds would have loved to have sung this. “The Long Way Home” is an angst-filled song about lost love that calls to mind Don Henley, Mark Knopfler and Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”). It’s beautifully realized: “You thought you left it all behind/You thought you’d up and gone/But all you did was figure out how to take the long way home….”

“World of Strange Design” is a song about differences and discrimination, with a musical presentation that channels Dire Straits. “Night School” is a Tori Amos style balled: “I’d give anything to be lying next to you/In night school.” The uplifting “50,000 Watts” is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”: “To be who we are/And not just who we were/A sister to him, a brother to her/We live like kings/without any sin/Redemption will come, just tune it on in….”

“When the Master Calls” is a touching song about the Civil War which would have fit well on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album. “Money Road” is the relaxing closing song about a dream, but the standard eleven-track edition of this album is only 38 minutes long. Consider purchasing the Limited Edition Deluxe version, which adds three additional songs and 10-plus more minutes of music.

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“Two Girls” is the first bonus track on the Limited Edition, and it sounds like a song from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. “Biloxi” is one of the great songs written by the late Jesse Winchester: “Beautiful girls are swimming in the sea/Oh, they look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will find his path with salted water/And the storms will blow off toward New Orleans.”

“Southern Heart” is a short, 2 minute long, song with plucked violin strings that would have been a great single in the 1960s; it’s a song very much in the style of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”

river and the thread rosanne

Cash has laid out her musical skills for the world to see on this release. It’s a highly recommended masterpiece or very close to it. But forget the ratings, just think of this as a near priceless gift delivered by Cash to her fans, current and prospective.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Blue Note Records.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-rosanne-cash-the-river-the-thread/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Rosanne-Cash-The-River-The-5411097.php

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Not So Lucky

Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ (Blue Note Records)

Tench Debut Works But Only If Expectations Are Reasonable and Realistic.

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“But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”)

Compared to the pop garbage my fitness club inundates me with every morning, longtime Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench’s debut album You Should Be So Lucky might as well be Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run or even Damn the Torpedoes. But, because I hold a classic rocker who supported one of my main men, Tom Petty, for so long – producing such terrific music – my standard for him is a bit higher. By this measure, his first solo effort falls – fairly or unfairly – a bit short.

For the most part, the album serves as enjoyable background music for a house party. There’s nothing striking, nor is there anything objectionable on the CD; in fact, some of the tunes that emanate from it are rather pleasant. They simply aren’t anything special.

Tench’s delivery is gravelly and reminiscent of a combination of influences, not the least of which is Petty himself (in fact, one of Petty’s biggest hits is “You Got Lucky”). Another influence is Dylan, with whom the Heartbreakers double-billed two major international tours in the late 80s. Tench’s enunciation is reminiscent of Dylan’s (specifically recalling “If You See Her, Say Hello”) on the first track, “Today I Took Your Picture Down.” This is my personal favorite on the album.

As for the second song, “Veronica Said,” I wasn’t sure whether Tench was channeling Lou Reed or Elvis Costello. I heard some of both, as well as a riff that is strangely similar to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” The album includes two instrumental tracks (“Ecor Rouge” and “Wobbles”), which are not much more than placeholders, and many of the piano solos sound similar to those of Bruce Hornsby. It also includes two placeholder type covers of Dylan songs (“Corrina, Corrina” and “Duquesne Whistle”).

Many musicians have made a career of covering Dylan songs – most notably The Byrds, and it remains the case that Dylan’s originals are generally superior. Here, neither of Tench’s renditions have any distinguishing characteristics that make them worth listening to more than once. This is especially true of one of Dylan’s better recent works, “Duquesne Whistle.” Whereas Dylan’s guitar chords and swing style boogie-woogie the song forward so that it picks up momentum like a train’s steam engine, Tench’s take moves forward like a snail until it finally comes to an end. As for “Corrina, Corrina,” Dylan’s version features powerful vocals (yes, the man can actually sing) that strike an emotional chord in the listener against a pleasing backdrop. Tench merely mouths the words along to his piano accompaniment.

It appears as if Tench, a talented musician, is attempting to find his distinct voice, sound and style by experimenting with and/or playing tribute to his favorite influences. There is nothing wrong with this and, with some refinement, a second solo album could potentially be quite good. This one is just so-so.

Tench might not have quite “known his song,” but sometimes trial and error can lead to great discoveries.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator, sometime musician (he’s on-call to play drums for The Who, The E Street Band or The Rolling Stones), and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel

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