The past year has been momentous for Rosanne Cash. The eldest daughter of country legend Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin recently celebrated her 60th birthday and her 13th album, The River and The Thread, gathered plaudits around the world.
In the UK she breached the top 20 for the first time and further affirmation came in February when she won three Grammy Awards.
It’s a deeply personal set of songs rooted in the American South and her own family history. “My husband John Leventhal and I started going to the South a lot in a few year period,” she says of her point of embarkation on the album. “One reason was that Arkansas State University had purchased my dad’s boyhood home in Arkansas. They wanted to restore it and make it part of a music heritage site, part of the Delta music trail, as well as being my dad’s home.
“I got involved with fund raising so I was going down to Memphis and Arkansas. At the same time I was going to Alabama to visit my friend Natalie Chanin, and then on another trip we drove straight down Highway 61 from Memphis to New Orleans.
“On another trip we went to Robert Johnson’s grave and the site of where the great blues musicians were from, so there was a lot of trips to the South and a lot of really inspiring moments – it was kind of hard to avoid the songs.”
The thread in the title is both literal and metaphorical, and originated from an expression from Natalie Chanin, a fashion designer, who was teaching the singer to sew. “She was actually threading my needle when she said, ‘You have to love the thread’, then of course it became a bigger metaphor for me. It was quite beautiful when she said that.”
A pilgrimage to Sun Studio, in Memphis, where her father famously recorded in the 1950s, was emotional, she admits.
“I had been there before a few times since my dad died [in 2003], and several times in my life. What was emotional about it was taking my son for the first time. He was 13 years old and he had never been and just to see him sitting in the control room and then there’s this enormous photo of my dad on the wall and Jake just walked over and he picked up this guitar that was hanging there and then he took it off and he was standing playing guitar right in front of the photo of my dad and tears came to my eyes.
“It was so beautiful to think about my dad, who was only 10 years older than Jake was at that moment, recording his first records in that place, it was very emotional.”
The River and The Thread is Cash’s first complete collaboration with her husband. It gave the album a special intimacy, she admits.
“In the beginning I said we should make this as a duo project, we should put both our names on the cover, we should have both our pictures on the cover. He said ‘No, let’s do it together but it’ll be your album’, but there was something special about that.
“It can be very romantic to work with your husband, to do something that’s deeply creative for both of you.
“Of course we do have some arguments,” she laughs, “but we are trying to make the best record we could and you can argue about it.
“Someone said to me after they heard the album, ‘Do you realise how many marriages are in this record?’ and I didn’t. Etta’s Tune, When The Master Calls The Roll, Modern Blue, Night School, there’s a lot of couples show up.”
On Tuesday Cash and Leventhal return to the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. “To play a club again where everyone’s standing and kind of crazy it’s so much fun,” she says.
For gig details visit www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk