JACK ROSE KENSINGTON BLUES LP (2005)
180 gram vinyl pressed at record technology, inc., housed in an austere black on black ‘old style/tip-on’ jacket
manufactured by Stoughton printing. limited edition of 500.
Blues is Jack's most diverse outing by far, with straight ragtime, heavy 12-string and that sweet Weissenborn lap guitar all
checking in. Honed during endless touring in 2004, the repertoire here is delivered with maximum authority in a series of
first-take performances recorded in early 2005. "Cathedral et Chartres" and "Calais to Dover" are dense,
brooding 12 string numbers, recalling the key tracks on 2004's Raag Manifestos CD. "Calais" features a sequence
of right hand picking furious enough to evoke a dream state ala Charlemagne Palestine's Strumming Music. "Rappahanock
River Rag" and "Flirtin' With the Undertaker" are pure syncopated ragtime, while "Kensington Blues"
offers an almost regal take on the intersection of Anglo and American trad. The epic "Now That I'm A Man Full Grown"
was the signature piece of many of 2004's live shows, a display of mind-boggling slide invention that straddles the line of
east and west ala "Yaman Blues" from the Opium Musick LP. In something of a surprise inclusion, Jack's take on Fahey's
"Sunflower River Blues" (long a staple of Pelt and J.R. gigs but never included on a record) is subtle and expressive,
with a wonderful rise and fall that perfectly accentuates Fahey's beautiful melody. (vhf records)
BARON/PITCHFORK The (apocryphal) outline of Jack Rose's game runs something
like this: Ragtime and "jass" were bequeathed to him by the last words of Dr. Chattanooga Red, a mysterious mentor
who allegedly told Rose to "not let the ragtime die, and to bring it into the 21st century"-- twin missions that
produced Rose's 2003 homage to his teacher, Opium Musick. True or not (not), it's a nice story, and the myth does seem operative--
Rose often plays as if the health of ragtime rests on his shoulders alone. Maybe it does. John Fahey and Takoma Records are
gone, and Rose's modern compatriots (Ben Chasney, Kevin Barker, Sir Richard Bishop, etc.) are increasingly seduced by the
East, by psychedelics, and by a "freak-folk" that owes less to American Primitive than it might claim. Although
Rose is no stranger to the raga form-- or to the near 20-minute composition (2004's Raag Manifestoes had both of these in
spades)-- his tools are firmly those of the past. While the new century's novel folk has already seen significant definition,
Rose is largely alone in talking new century ideas with the old language.
Kensington Blues is derivative and at the same time nearly brilliant. The styles Rose employs are diverse: twelve-string virtuoso
shows, a slide guitar that alludes as much to the sitar as to the blues, solid traditional Takoma ragtime and folk. Out from
latter comes a Fahey cover, "Sunflower River Blues", which (not surprisingly) works as the soil from which the rest
of the record grows. The original was predicated on Fahey's impeccable timing; Rose's take amplifies the feeling and melody,
and then runs with it. Hence the stunning "Kensington Blues", a song full of clarity and syncopation, elegant and
well composed. Two others, "Rappahanock River Rag" and "Flirtin' with the Undertaker", are less weighty,
more jaunty deliveries of Rose's signature modern ragtime.
is more than a traditionalist, and the other tracks on Kensington Blues veer sharply into newer territory. "Cathedral
et Chartres" uses twelve strings to abstract the melodic clarity so abundant elsewhere on the record, speeding it up
and then sending it into a droning, buzzing finale. This idea is fully worked out in his closer, "Calais to Dover",
in which Rose transfigures the raga into a kind of Dream Music, deep listening project, vibrating his way past individual
notes and sequences and arriving at something more akin to pure tone and texture. The minimalist affinity is no coincidence:
Rose's folk is not the least bit free, even as he explores freak sonic terrain, and control is his technique, no matter how
many notes he stacks. 8.0
BILL MAYER/DUSTED MAGAZINE Jack Rose has been going places lately, and the evidence is all over this splendid record.
The names of six of its eight tunes refer to places, some easy to find on a map (“Calais To Dover”), some harder
to pin down (“Cross the North Fork”). Another brings up the journey we all must eventually take (“Flirtin’
with the Undertaker”).
The guitarist has toured like a demon
in the year that preceded this recording, and it shows in the best possible ways. Every track is a first take, and each radiates
the confidence of a man who knows he can just sit down and nail it, no problem. Rose has never sounded better; some credit
must go to engineer Mike Chaffin for an exceptionally bright and present recording job, but more must go to the artist for
the clarity, strength and purposefulness of his finger picking.
forges ahead in his material, sometimes by turning back the clock. Working backwards is part of his MO – remember that
he recorded crumbling rock, acoustic trance, and full-on noise with Pelt for half a dozen years before he laid down his first
finger-style performances. Kensington Blues includes a couple delightful ragtime tunes, his first compositions in that ancient
but honorable style. It also features several winding, quasi-narrative fantasias, pieces that will lose you in the sheer gorgeousness
of their sound without ever really getting lost; go ahead, try and stay rooted in this time and place whilst listening to
“North Fork” or “Cathedral et Chartres” (forgive his French – you’d do the same for Chic).
If you do, you’ve got some serious karmic baggage weighing down your soul.
that I’m a Man Full Grown II,” his latest Indian-style slide piece, picks up where Rose’s side of the By
The Fruits You Shall Know The Roots compilation left off. It accelerates slowly, affording plenty of time to appreciate his
voluptuous tone on the lap steel before he builds to a thrilling breakneck climax and elegant denouement.
Rose also travels to the mountain. He’s dedicated music to John Fahey, but here he
finally records one of the man’s compositions. His version of “Sunflower River Blues” sounds regal, unflappable
and complete in the way that, say, Rose’s pleasant but somewhat hurried cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark
was the Night, Cold was the Ground” on his first album was not. Truly he is a man full grown, and this is one of the
best albums in any genre to come out in 2005.
DIGITALIS Jack Rose makes it look so easy. His latest album is a collection
of first takes, which leads me to consider that he might be capable of knocking off a disc of beautiful, evocative guitar
music every couple of weeks or so. He doesn't, which gives us loyal consumers time to luxuriate in his earthy yet psychedelically
beautiful recordings instead of sitting glued to eBay in search of micro-edition CDRs.
Blues" is the follow-up to "Raag Manifestos", which consisted almost entirely of breathless modal improvisations,
recorded with a mixture of live ambiances. There's a more consistent studio sound here, but the material is more varied, with
the album as a whole providing a neat summation of Rose's steel-string talents.
title track is a bright and optimistic opener, which could pass for something from one of John Fahey's early Takoma albums.
Rose has admitted having had to work hard to transcend that influence on his playing, and has joked that contemporary finger-pickers
like himself are "riding Fahey's ass to the bank". So it's a brave move to take that particular imposing bull by
the horns in the form of a subtle and nuanced cover of the late master's "Sunflower River Blues". Rose has noted
Fahey's tendency to emphasise downbeats by heavy thumbing of the bass strings, in contrast to his contemporary Robbie Basho's
emphasis on the second and fourth beats of the bar. Rose takes the latter approach here, resulting in a light and airy reading
of the song, which works as a faithful tribute but is still imprinted with Rose's musical personality.
"Rapahanock River Rag (for William Moore)" and "Flirtin' with the Undertaker"
are short, straight ragtime songs which provide a nice contrast to the more raga-influenced pieces, which represent the most
characteristic and vital facet of Rose's music. Again, it may owe a lot to Basho, but Rose's approach is noticeably more linear
and tightly focused than Basho's 6- and 12-string fantasias. "Cross the North Fork" features improvised modal melodies
over rapid picking of a single minor chord. "Cathedral et Chartres" is similar in style and structure, but in a
major key, with the title calling to mind the Basho classic "Cathedrals et Fleur de Lis". You can hear Rose's admitted
Terry Riley influence here, and his attempt to apply the minimalist composer's style to guitar, with fast arpeggios producing
richly harmonic flurries or acting as a drone. This is most evident on the gripping, dramatic closer, "Calais to Dover".
The title suggests the piece was inspired by crossing the English Channel, and the rolling, shifting tempos and accents approximate
a journey on exhilaratingly choppy waters. It features a tense middle section which ponders over a couple of notes before
taking off into more unrestrained melodies.
Rose's slide makes its only
appearance on "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown II", which manages to incorporate both Delta blues and Eastern melodies,
with the slide nimbly used on different single strings over the solid chordal backing. It's a magnificently fluid piece, and
a highlight of the album.
All of Rose's major releases so far have been
deeply satisfying, but this disc is his most accessible yet, and an ideal entry point for the curious. This is music I can
listen to just about any time, anywhere - I fall asleep to it, amidst visions of mysterious, bucolic gardens, and wild, verdant
landscapes. It helps keep me calm amidst the potential exasperations of city life. But I find it's at its most rewarding when
I give my full attention to every melodic and harmonic twist and turn. 8/10