Singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash (and daughter of icon Johnny Cash) has a brand new album, The River And The Thread.
"It’s both real river, The Mississippi, and real thread," Rosanne Cash tells iHeartRadio. "My friend Natalie Shannon in Alabama taught me how to sew, and when she was teaching me, she threaded my needle and she said, 'You have to love the thread,' and it just sent a chill through me. She wasn’t speaking in metaphors at all... but I thought yeah, the thread of your own past, the thread of your musical history, the thread that goes backwards and forwards, your parents and your children and your grandparents and your great grandchildren. The river is the same thing."
Rosanne Cash teamed up with iHeartRadio to Guest DJ a radio station that represents her southern sensibiblity and passion for music. Her station features an interesting mix of rock, country, standards and more. Check out the Rosanne's top ten tracks below.
1. Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightning"
"'Smokestack Lightning' by Howlin' Wolf is kind of the quintessential Delta [blues] artist and the quintessential Delta song to me," Rosanne tells iHeartRadio. "It's just so sexy and rhythmic and tough and sweet at the same time... During one of my trips to the Delta when I was writing the new record, I went to Dockery Farms where Howlin' Wolf used to work on the cotton plantation and then sit on the porch of the juke joint at night and play his songs. That was really quite powerful, to go to that area to see where he was. This is one of my favorite songs from The Delta Blues."
2. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "Strange Things Happening Every Day"
"She’s such a badass," Rosanne says. "She’s a great guitar player, great singer and she’s got this kind of rock star attitude even though she’s this nice southern woman who sings a lot of gospel music. My dad always said she was his favorite singer. This is a really inspiring woman and a really inspiring track... Patty Griffin sings this song called 'Sister Rosetta Comes Before Us'. She was like the original badass (laughs)."
3. Bobbie Gentry, "Ode To Billie Joe"
"[This song] has this incredible blend of being a very raw, narrative story all set around the dinner table. It could be a photograph, a black and white photograph from the 1950’s from the south -- it’s so crystal clear -- the cinematic qualities delivered in a really beautiful, present voice. There is no voice like Bobbie Gentry’s, and her acoustic guitar with the country pop background of the cascading strings... there’s no other record like it, there’s no other story like it." Rosanne adds, "Forty years after this song was a hit, people are still saying, 'I wonder what they threw off the bridge,' and Bobby Gentry is such an enigmatic personality. She virtually disappeared from the music business; you can’t find her. In fact, I narrated a documentary for the BBC called Searching For Bobby Gentry – nobody knows where she is. She does not want to be found, so at some point early in her career she just dropped out. She had a lot of music left in her, but she didn’t want to deal with the business anymore is what everybody thinks, and who can blame her?
"She was a great great artist, and I’ve been singing this song live in concert for several years now.
"The coolest thing happened: I sang it live at The Rainforest Foundation Benefit at Carnegie Hall a couple years ago, and President Clinton was in the audience. There was an intermission, and he kind of summoned me at the intermission to talk at length about 'Ode To Billie Joe.' He had these very well developed opinions about the song and how it represented the shame of the South; it was fascinating what he said about it. People still talk about this song 40 years after it was a hit; it’s a really amazing story."
4. Johnny Cash, "Big River"
"I think 'Big River' is a perfect song; it works on so many levels," Rosanne says of her father's song. "It’s a geographical trip in that it starts in Minneapolis or St. Paul, Minnesota and it ends up in New Orleans, so it takes this trip down the Mississippi River and it mentions cities along the way. On another level, it’s fueled by this urgency and testosterone. He’s looking for this woman, and he stops at every town along the way to look for this woman, and he doesn’t find her.
"On another level I think it’s a perfect piece of southern poetry. My dad’s phrases and his alliteration and his onomatopoeia... it’s perfect, it’s almost Shakespearean. and it’s one of my favorite songs of his. I chose it because it’s quintessentially southern. Also I think he was looking for my mother when he wrote that song, so that makes it even more special."
5. Randy Newman, "Louisiana 1927"
"I just don’t know if there is a more poetic, sadder, elegiac song about a southern state. I think Randy Newman is one of the greatest living American songwriters, and this song, this quintessential Randy Newman, it’s perfect. And the way he offered the song up after Katrina was so heartbreaking and so beautiful and so perfect... he’s a hero in my eyes just for that, but for the catalog of his work and this song at the centerpiece of it, you have to give it up to the guy, he’s just one of the greatest."
6. Muddy Waters, "I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love"
"I love this song, not only but Muddy but by Mose Allison, so I had to choose it 'cause there’s also something counterintuitive about it, just as word play it feels good to say, it feels good to sing. But it’s also counter to a lot of Blues songs because the life was so hard and there was so much longing and suffering, and this one is a departure from all of that. I love it, I live it and sung by Muddy... I mean there’s not much more to love about that."
7. Bob Dylan, "Highway 61 Revisited"
"Couldn’t leave Dylan out of the list even though he’s not southern. He wrote some great songs about the south, none greater than 'Highway 61 Revisited.' 'God said to Abraham kill me a son, Abraham said where you want this killing done, our on highway 61' -- and I took that trip down Highway 61, I guess every musician who cares about this music eventually takes the trip down Highway 61.
"In the same way the Dylan wrote 'Highway 61 Revisited' because of what had happened there and what was happening to music. We all go there because of the music, Dylan just happens to love it as much as we do and wrote the song. We started in Memphis, we drove to Oxford, Mississippi and saw where Faulkner lived and then all the way down Highway 61, ended up in New Orleans and it was a perfect trip of music and inspiration... nobody does it like Dylan. The urgency, the pictures painted, the word play, the unexpected pairings of God, Abraham and the Delta... And he’s funny and he’s Bob Dylan so what more could you want!?"
8. Paul Simon, "Graceland"
"He’s not a southerner of course, but it’s about a journey down the Mississippi river. He describes the Mississippi river -- I think the best description ever -- he calls it our national guitar, 'shining like a national guitar.' I was standing on the roof of a hotel in Memphis a couple years ago looking over the Mississippi at dusk, and this gleam came across the Mississippi and it just burst into my head, Paul Simon’s line 'it’s shining like a national guitar' – that was it. I get it.
"He goes to Graceland to Elvis’ house, and he’s taken a child on this journey with him, and you can see it, you can see this road trip and you can see him ending up there. And then Graceland of course becomes the biggest metaphor. The land of Grace and going with this child, the child of his first marriage. The details are so perfect and so deep; I never get tired of hearing that song."
9. Jesse Winchester, "Biloxi"
"It’s such a beautiful song, and it has a couple of elements like 'Graceland' in that it’s full of this poignancy and longing, and yet it has such a powerful sense of place. You see the sunset on the water, and you see the little boy on the sand digging the hole -- and we are walking naked. In the water there’s this abandon and beauty about the song. I have never been to Biloxi, so it has this added element of mystery. If I go there will I see Jesse Winchester's Biloxi."
10. Etta James, "At Last"
"There’s no voice like Etta James, and 'At Last' is the quintessential Etta James. Talk about badass! She was a badass. I was just watching her in that documentary about Muscle Shoals not long ago, and she was just this little, intense, big-voiced black woman with blonde hair and she’d just take no prisoners. You did not wanna meet her in a back alley, no! And also you don’t want to go toe to toe with her in a singing contest either, it’s Etta, it’s Etta James... she’s the bomb."
11. Rosanne Cash, "A Feather's Not A Bird"
"I’ll close out this set with one of my own songs, 'A Feather’s Not A Bird,' because it’s the opening track on my record The River And The Thread," Rosanne tells iHeartRadio." It lays out the landscape of the south and it lays out these journeys I took through the south that inspired all these songs. It starts in Florence, Alabama and it goes to Memphis and Arkansas and Nashville -- all these places are name checked -- but there’s also a sense of urgency about it too, because it’s also a road trip, but it’s a road trip to the past and to yourself, the sense of home that you carry in yourself. The line that I’m very happy I came up with is, 'There’s never any highway when you’re looking for the past.' So in the same way that some of these other songs are geographical journeys and metaphorical journeys, 'A Feather’s Not A Bird' is that."
Photos by Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio