First Look: New Jack Rose (R.I.P.) Album


The prolific  finger-picking genius had just completed an
album for Thrill Jockey at the time of his death. See a pretty amazing video, below.


By Jennifer Kelly


Jack Rose, who died last December at the age of 38, was one
of America’s leading acoustic guitar players, an heir to the finger-picking
genius of John Fahey, the mystical orchestrations of Robbie Basho. His career,
though short, was far from unproductive. He released more than 20 full-length
albums over a two-decade period, both as a solo artist and in collaboration
with others. Luck in the Valley (Thrill
Jockey) is his last recording, recorded just months before his death.  


Rose was fascinated with the sounds of pre-war blues,
gospel, ragtime and folk. Alongside lyrical raga-blues-flamenco odes like his
lovely “Cathedral et Chartes” he would juxtapose jaunty old-time cake-walk
tunes. He could astonish you with the pure luminous beauty of a guitar flurry
left to hang in the air, but he could also make you tap your foot in time to a
strong but archaic sense of swing. On this album, the third in his self-deprecatingly
named Ditch Trilogy, recorded live
and quickly with friends, Rose drew upon his arcane knowledge of early 20th century blues. He resurrected classics like Dennis Crumpton and Robert Summers’
“Everybody Ought to Pray Sometimes” and W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”. He
composed new songs imbued with the rough country swagger, dedicating the
gorgeous opener to “bones” player Percy Danforth, and distilling the backwoods
like 40 proof liquor into “Lick Mountain Ramble.” He brought friends – Fahey scholar
and guitar player Glenn Jones, old-time picker Micah Blue Smalldone, Harmonica
Dan and his frequent abetters the Black Twig Pickers – in to supplement his
dazzling skill. As a result, Luck in the
has a lived-in, friendly feel, despite its considerable technical
accomplishments.   Whether coaxing
oil-slicked rainbows of ambiguous overtone, as on solo cuts like “Tree in the
Valley” and “Blues for Percy Danforth”, or bouncing along over all-hands
hoe-downs like “Lick Mountain Ramble”, Rose made the difficulty disappear into
a texture of transporting beauty.


Jack Rose died far too young, in the very midst of turning
into one of our best guitarists. His last record cannot help but be tinged by
melancholy. And yet there’s a joy here, too, that comes from hearing an
extraordinarily gifted musician working over his craft, surrounded by
well-loved fellow-travellers, and making the complex and difficult sound
casually, unpremeditatedly wonderful.


[Photo Credit: Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography]




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