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Pop reviews — week of Jan. 19

The River & The Thread

Rosanne Cash

The songs on The River & The Thread rock like a cradle, and the rhythm rings true while Rosanne Cash explores her roots.

The mesmerizing musical journey takes her to Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast as Cash encounters the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Emmett Till, AM radio and her Civil War ancestors. There’s also the repeated tug of Memphis, where Cash was born around the time her father cut his first record.

This Southern music stretches far beyond the confines of country — that’s a violin on Night School, not a fiddle. The 11 songs blend Tennessee flattop twang with gospel, the blues, and even hints of jazz while building a bridge from Dust Bowl ballads to Dusty Springfield pop.

Covering so much territory takes time, but Cash makes it well worthwhile. In these days of downloads, The River offers an eloquent argument for albums. Her husband and producer, John Leventhal, pulls it all together and ensures the set’s considerable ambitions don’t overwhelm the immaculate arrangements. There’s no hot pickin’ here; instead, Cash’s marvelous material is the star as she shares her story of rediscovery.

— Steven Wine

Associated Press

The Execution: A Jeremy Fisk Novel

Dick Wolf

Dick Wolf, creator of television’s Law & Order, follows his thriller The Intercept with The Execution, a page-turning novel that reads like a compelling episode of the best television has to offer. And like his stories from Law & Order, the novel feels like it could be ripped from the headlines.

Commandante Cecilia Garza of the Mexican intelligence agency has been hunting an elusive assassin known as The Hummingbird (Chuparosa). Twenty-three bodies are found near the U.S. border, and she knows this killer is responsible. A tip leads her to another massacre, but her adversary is nowhere to be found. Then she learns he’s headed to Manhattan for United Nations week, a time when the world’s most powerful leaders are in the city.

NYPD Detective Jeremy Fisk, hero of The Intercept, is still reeling from events that almost killed him, but even a devastating loss cannot keep him from his duties, and Fisk and his Joint Terrorism Task Force team are on high alert for the week.

Garza immediately rubs Fisk the wrong way. But they are going to have to put aside their differences to stop a plot that could destroy the city and eliminate leaders from several foreign countries.

Wolf takes the time to explore what makes people in law enforcement strive to be the best they can be while keeping the pace of the story frenetic.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press

That Girl

Jennifer Nettles

As lead singer in the contemporary country duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles and partner Kristian Bush kept growing increasingly experimental over four albums. For her first solo album, That Girl, Nettles takes a different tack, stripping her songs to their basics — both sonically and emotionally.

Nettles is blessed with a voice that features a wide range and a distinct, vinegary tone. But it’s her ability to connect with a song’s emotional content that makes her stand out most. That Girl shows off that quality remarkably well, whether she’s singing an open-hearted ballad like This Angel, a playful yet meaningful bopper like Moneyball or a complicated confessional like the title cut.

Producer Rick Rubin balances spare acoustic arrangements with inventive rhythms and orchestrations. Even the most dramatic moments shine because of a deft, light touch, from the Latin rhythms of Jealousy to the way horns come in on This One’s For You to how drums and strings are introduced in Me Without You.

That Girl is a 1970s-style creative statement, recalling classic Carole King and Linda Ronstadt rather than any of her country or pop contemporaries. It’s a reminder of how powerful music can be when it comes from the heart — and tilts more toward talent than technology.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press


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