Jack Rose – Luck in the Valley

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)




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 Valley 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


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.




Standout tracks: “Tree in the Valley” “Blues for Percy Danforth” “St. Louis Blues” JENNIFER KELLY






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