The River & The Thread

2014

Released on Blue Note Records
Produced and arranged by John Leventhal
Co-produced by Rick DePofi

 

1. A Feather’s Not A Bird

I’m going down to Florence, gonna wear a pretty dress

I’ll sit atop the magic wall with the voices in my head

Then we’ll drive on through to Memphis, past the strongest shoals

Then on to Arkansas just to touch the gumbo soul

 

 A feather’s not a bird

The rain is not the sea

A stone is not a mountain

But a river runs through me

 

There’s never any highway when you’re looking for the past

The land becomes a memory and it happens way too fast

The money’s all in Nashville but the light's inside my head

So I’m going down to Florence just to learn to love the thread

 

A feather’s not a bird

The rain is not the sea

A stone is not a mountain

But a river runs through me

 

I burned up seven lives and I used up all my charms

I took the long way home just to end up in your arms

That’s why I’m going down to Florence, now I got my pretty dress

I’m gonna let the magic wall put the voices in my head

 

John Leventhal: Guitar, Bass, Percussion, Organ, String Arrangement
Shawn Pelton: Drums
David Mansfield: Violin, Viola
Amy Helm, Catherine Russell, Curtis King, Tabitha Fair, Tawatha Agee, John James: Background Vocals

 2. The Sunken Lands

Five cans of paint

And the empty fields

And the dust reveals

The children cry

The work never ends

There’s not a single friend

Who will hold her hand in the sunken lands?

 

The mud and tears

Melt the cottons bolls

It’s a heavy toll

Oh, his words are cruel

And they sting like fire

Like the devil’s choir

But who will hold her hand in the sunken lands?

 

The river rises

And she sails away

She could never stay

Now her work is done

In the sunken lands

There’s five empty cans

John Leventhal: Guitar, Mandolin, Bass, Drums, Organ
Catherine Russell, Curtis King, Tabitha Fair: Background Vocals

3. Etta’s Tune

What’s the temperature darling?

A hundred or more

Horses pawing at the dust

Violets wilting by the door

You pour your strongest coffee

And I’ll take the battered wheel

We’ll drive straight down the river road

And spread a blanket on the hill

 

What’s the temperature darling?

Now don’t stare into the past

There was nothing we could change or fix

It was never gonna last

Now don’t stare into those photos

Don’t analyze my eyes

We’re just a mile or two from Memphis

And the rhythm of our lives

 

A mile or two from Memphis

And I must go away

I tore up all the highways

Now there’s nothing left to say

A mile or two from Memphis

And I finally made it home

 

There were days you paced the kitchen

There were nights that felt like jail

When the phone rang in the dead of night

You would always throw my bail

No, you never touched the whiskey

And you never took the pills

I traveled for a million miles

While you were standing still

 

What’s the temperature darling?

As the daylight fades away

I’ll make one last rehearsal

With one foot in the grave

We kept the house on old Nokomis

We kept the polished bass guitar

We kept the tickets and the reels of tape

To remember who we are

 

 A mile or two from Memphis and I must go away

I tore up all the highways

There’s nothing left to say

A mile or two from Memphis and I finally made it home

 

What’s the temperature darling?

John Leventhal: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Organ
John Paul White: Harmony Vocal

4. 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

And I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee

 

I keep my head down I keep my eyes on you

It’s a big wide world with a million shades of modern blue

 

Everybody ‘round here moves too fast

And it feels so good but it’s never gonna last

Everything I have is twice what I knew

But I don’t have nothing if I don’t have you

 

I keep my head down I keep my eyes on you

It’s a big wide world with a million shades of modern blue

 

Will you still be there when I round the curve?

Will you hold my hand when I lose my nerve?

I went to Barcelona and my mind got changed

So I’m heading back to Memphis on the midnight train

 

I keep my head down I keep my eyes on you

It’s a big wide world

I keep my head down I keep my eyes on you

It’s a big wide world with a million shades of modern blue

 

John Leventhal: Guitar, Organ, Harmony Vocal
Dan Rieser: Drums
Tim Luntzel: Bass
Jake Leventhal, Rick DePofi: Background Vocals, Percussion

5. Tell Heaven

When you’re like a broken bird 

 

Tell heaven

Battered wings against a darkened day

When your worries won’t let you sleep

Tell heaven

When the tears won’t ever go away

 

If you got no one to love

Tell heaven

There’s no one on the telephone today

When every story falls apart

Tell heaven

Nothing good seems like it’ll come your way

Tell heaven

Tell heaven

 

With heavy hearts and empty rooms

Tell heaven

You don’t have to know what you will say

The empty sky may never take our burdens

But something good will someday come our way

So, tell heaven

Tell heaven

John Leventhal: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Organ
Catherine Russell, Tawatha Agee, Curtis King, John James: Background Vocals

6. The Long Way Home

Dark highways and the country roads

Don’t scare you like they did

The woods and windows now welcome you

To the places you once hid

You grew up and you moved away

Across a foreign sea

And what was left what was kept

Was what you gave to me

 

You thought you'd 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

 

The Southern rain was heavy

Almost heavy as your heart

A cavalcade of strangers came

To tear your world apart

The bells of old St. Mary’s

Are now the clang of Charcoal Hill

And you took the old religion

From the woman on the hill

 

You thought you'd 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

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

The long way home

 

John Leventhal: Guitar, Percussion, String Arrangement
Shawn Pelton: Drums
Tim Luntzel: Upright Bass
David Mansfield: Violin, Viola
Catherine Russell, Tabitha Fair, Curtis King: Background Vocals

7. World Of Strange Design

Well, you’re not from around here

You’re probably not our kind

It’s hot from March to Christmas

And other things you’ll find

Won’t fit your old ideas

They’re a line in shifting sands

You’ll walk across a ghostly bridge

To a crumbling promised land

 

If Jesus came from Mississippi

And if tears began to rhyme

I guess I’ll start at the beginning

It’s a world of strange design

 

Well I’d like to have the ocean

But I settled for the rain

I humbly asked for true love

There was such a price to pay

Cause this room was filled with trouble

And sacraments deceived

Now I’m a jewel in the shade

Of his weeping willow tree

 

If Jesus came from Mississippi

If tears began to rhyme

I’ll have to go back to the beginning

In this world of strange design

 

We talk about your drinking

But not about your thirst

You set off through the minefield

Like you were rounding first

So open up a window

And hand the baby through

Point her towards the ghostly bridge

And she’ll know what to do

 

If Jesus came from Mississippi

And if tears began to rhyme

We'll have to start at the beginning

In this world of strange design

John Leventhal: Guitar, Bass, Percussion
Shawn Pelton: Drums
Derek Trucks: Slide Guitar
Catherine Russell, Curtis King, Tawatha Agee, John James: Background Vocals
Slide Guitar recorded by Bobby Tis at Swamp Raga Studios, Jacksonville, FL

8. Night School

Mobile like a mystery town

Water, heat and moon

Steam on the magnolia trees

Never ending rooms

What happened to that other life

We thought we lived, we two?

We traveled like spies in Paradise,

At the time it felt so true

 

In night school

In night school

 

What about this big old house?

Tell me all the news

What became of all those years?

Whatever will we do?

Yeah, Mobile is a mystery town,

Water, heat and moon

And steam lies on the battlefields

And all I see is you

 

In night school

In night school

 

The hungry ghosts still tap the walls

Where once there was a door

I’ve given every thing to them

Still they wanted more

Steam lies on the window panes

We acted like such fools

But I’d give everything to be

Lying next to you

 

In night school

In night school 

 

John Leventhal: Guitar, Celeste, String Arrangement
Tim Luntzel: Upright Bass
David Mansfield: Violin, Viola
Dave Eggar: Cello

 9. 50,000 Watts

It’s a hard road, but it fits your shoes

Son of rhythm and brother of the blues

The sound of darkness, the pull of the yoke

Everything is broken and painted in smoke

 

But there’s a light on Sunday

A new old desire

The sound of the whistle ‘cross radio wires

Love in your future

I’ll wait for you there

With fifty thousand watts of common prayer

Fifty thousand watts of common prayer

Fifty thousand watts of common prayer

 

We’ll be who we are and not who we were

A sister to him, a brother to her

We’ll live like kings without any sin

Redemption will come, just tune it on in

 

But there’s a light on Sunday

A new old desire

The sound of the whistle ‘cross radio wires

Love in your future

I’ll wait for you there

With fifty thousand watts of common prayer

Fifty thousand watts of common prayer

Fifty thousand watts of common prayer

Fifty thousand watts of common prayer

John Leventhal: Guitar
Dan Rieser: Drums
Tim Luntzel: Upright Bass
Jon Cowherd: Wurlitzer Piano
Cory Chisel: Harmony Vocal

10. When The Master Calls The Roll

Girl with hair of flaming red

Seeking perfect lover

For to lie down on her feather bed

Soft secrets to uncover

Must be gentle, must be strong

With disposition sunny

Just as faithful as the day is long

And careful with his money

And so the open letter read

The newsboy did deliver

Three months later plans were made to wed

Down by the King James River

 

Lo, the season may come

Lo, the season may go

What love has joined together

Will forever be made whole

When the master calls the roll

 

Oh, my darling William Lee

Take me to the altar

I don’t have strength to watch you as you leave

But my love will never falter

Oh, my darling Mary Ann

The march to war is calling

Somewhere far across these Southern lands

Are band of brothers falling

My tender bride, the tides demand

That I leave you with your mother

With my father’s rifle in one hand

And your locket in the other

 

Lo, the season may come

Lo, the season may go

Beware the storm clouds gather

Take heed, dear mortal soul

When the master calls the roll

 

But can this union be preserved?

The soldier boy was crying

I will never travel back to her

But not for lack of trying

It’s the love of one true hearted lass

That made the boy a hero

But a rifle ball and a cannon blast

Cut him down to zero

Oh Virginia, whence I came

I’ll see you when I’m younger

And I’ll know you by your hills again

This time from six feet under

 

Lo, the season may come

Lo, the season may go

What man has torn asunder

Will someday be made whole

When the master calls the roll

Though the storm clouds gather

Let the union be made whole

When the master calls the roll

John Leventhal: Guitar, Bass, Organ, Mandolin, Percussion
Dan Rieser: Drums
Larry Farrell: Trombone
Gabe Witcher: Fiddle
The Master’s Choir: Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Tony Joe White
The Master’s Choir recorded by Donivan Cowart at Rodney’s house, Thompson Station, TN

 11. Money Road

I was dreaming about the Tallahatchie Bridge

A thousand miles from where we live

But the long line at the pearly gate

The keepers of our fate

None of them will congregate

Out on Money Road

 

A lonesome boy in a foreign land

And a voice we’ll never understand

One lies in the Zion yard

And one sleeps on the river bar

Neither one got very far

Out on Money Road

Out on Money Road

 

I was dreaming about the deepest blue

But what you seek is seeking you

You can cross the bridge and carve your name

But the river stays the same

We left but never went away

Out on Money Road

Out on Money Road

Out on Money Road

Out on Money Road

John Leventhal: Guitar, Electric Sitar, Organ
Dan Rieser: Drums
Tim Luntzel: Upright Bass
Jon Cowherd: Wurlitzer Piano
Allison Moorer: Harmony Vocal


All songs written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal

Except “When The Master Calls The Roll” written by Rosanne Cash, John Leventhal and Rodney Crowell, “Two Girls” written by Townes Van Zandt, “Biloxi” written by Jesse Winchester.

All tracks © 2014 Chelcait Music administered by Measurable Music LLC, a Notable Music Co (BMI) / Lev-A-Tunes (ASCAP). Except “When The Master Calls The Roll” © 2014 Chelcait Music administered by Measurable Music LLC, a Notable Music Co (BMI) / Lev-A-Tunes (ASCAP) / BMG Gold Songs/We Jam Writers Group/Saddle Springs Songshop (ASCAP), all rights administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Recorded and mixed by John Leventhal and Rick DePofi at NY Noise, New York, NY
Mastered by Reuben Cohen and Gavin Lurssen at Lurssen Mastering, Los Angeles, CA
Production Coordination by Jill Dell’Abate

John Paul While appears courtesy of Sensibility Recordings/Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment
Tony Joe White appears courtesy of Yep Roc Records
John Prine appears courtesy of Oh Boy Records
Gabe Witcher appears courtesy of Nonesuch Records
Derek Trucks appears courtesy of Masterworks, a division of Sony Music Entertainment

Thank you to all the musicians on this record, and to special guests Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, Kris Kristofferson, Allison Moorer, John Prine, Catherine Russell, Derek Trucks, John Paul White, Tony Joe White and Gabe Witcher. It is an honor to work with all of you. Thank you to Rick DePofi for untold hours in the studio. Thank you to Natalie Chanin for teaching me to love the thread. Thank you to Etta Grant, who has taken up where Marshall left off in telling me the stories. Thank you to Jake Leventhal, who makes his recording debut on this record, and who makes my life better in every way. Thank you to the brilliant team at Blue Note Records. I could not ask for more love and enthusiasm from a record label. Thank you to my longtime manager Danny Kahn, for patience, vision, encouragement and for orchestrating more than I can even conceive. Thank you most of all to John Leventhal. We painted this together.