Rosanne Cash underwent something of an artistic renewal with 2006’s “Black Cadillac,” which is an odd thing to say considering that album was borne out of loss following the deaths of her father (Johnny Cash), mother (Vivian Liberto), and stepmother (June Carter Cash). Confronting her grief head on, that record grabbed you by the collar, as if to remind you that Cash, once a rising star in 1980s commercial country music, had arrived on her own terms free from the constraints of radio and major labels.
Since “Black Cadillac,” Cash’s work has carried a noticeable gravitas, even when the material was lighter, such as 2009’s “The List,” on which she interpreted country songs her father had deemed essential. On “The River & the Thread,” her latest, Cash comes full circle as a storyteller and singer of exceptional grace and grit. It’s among her finest work in a 35-year career, assured and at ease, and one of 2014’s first great albums.
Produced and arranged by John Leventhal, her husband, the album unfurls with songs full of Southern Gothic imagery, touching on death, destiny, and the past. “There’s never any highway when you’re looking for the past,” she sings on the bluesy opener, “A Feather’s Not a Bird.”
Cash is occasionally surrounded by roots-music royalty (including John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, and Rodney Crowell as the choir on “When the Master Calls the Roll”), but the focus is squarely fixed on her. And she has a lot to say. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “A Feather’s Not a Bird”