Review Summary: Not quite in top form, but still a worthwhile record that blends Eastern drone into acoustic guitar strumming.
As I made known in my previous review, the state of 2008’s rock music scene has left me cold and with few highlights. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with other forms of music, as I’ve found plenty of treasures within the realms of free improvisation, jazz, and folk.
The underground scene in America is currently in the middle of a fierce thrust of embracing Eastern sensibilities with rootsier, more nostalgic Western traditions. Bands such as Six Organs of Admittance have managed to transcend any of the “new weird folk” and yet they’re at the forefront of the trend, with the 2008 EP Goatflower
almost completely abandoning the Western in favor of a lo-fi droning raga piece. Last year, Sir Richard Bishop released the masterful While My Guitar Violently Bleeds
, which on its epic final track pits a manic improvisational acoustic performance against a tanpura drone.
Of course, this is not exactly groundbreaking news--fusions such as these extend back to the fifties and sixties, especially among jazz musicians such as Ahmed Abdul-Malik and John Coltrane as well as folk pluckers like John Faherty. But it seems to me that the spiritual essence of Eastern traditions is leaking into the Western consciousness more and more every single day.
Jack Rose, I imagine (for many people, anyway), sort of exists in the shadow of the above-mentioned freak folk hero Faherty. This is not the case for this reviewer, and Rose’s 2008 release, I Do Play Rock and Roll
, is a good testament towards that. Ironic in its title, given that this performance is still of the raga-influenced, droning acoustic guitar vein that we heard on Raag Manifestoes
, it is a release that carries on in the freak folk tradition while highlighting the vast space for personal expression available within the format.
Rose is supposed to have no formal training in Eastern music traditions, which is apparent in many ways. His depth of rhythmic complexity does not extend anywhere near the Indian raga masters whom he so admires, nor is his intrinsic sense for rhythmic nuance as sharply developed as that of fusion master John McLaughlin or ethnic-folk monarch Sir Richard Bishop. But his fluidity of momentum and raw ability to dig into a droning, exotic acoustic passage, find every variation and weave melody into the mix make for a hypnotic and mystical experience.
The opening piece, “Calais To Dover,” thrives on an unrelenting momentum, a turbulently finger-picked acoustic drone that flanges with Indian fire and never lets up until the last, desolate chords. Rose spends the entire thirteen minutes weaving fractured melodies into his mind-numbing drone, allowing stream-of-consciousness melodicism to merge with meditative repetition with ease.
“Cathedral et Chartres” takes a more Western approach to songwriting while still maintaining the use of unusual and exotic chords and bursts of jagged rhythm to fluidly express a developing emotional state. The song never sits still in dynamic or mood and also lacks the consistent drone-palette, giving the melodicism a much more defined, linear feel amongst the chord changes. “Sundogs,” on the other hand, strips away any melodic sensibilities, instead pushing the drone principle to the forefront with a rather bizarre instrumental howl emanating amongst narcotic strums of an exotic stringed instrument, sending the listener into a cosmic desert.
Rose’s latest release is not groundbreaking, but simply a very poignant musical document of a musician who has successfully integrated a variety of styles into a richly minimalistic setting. His acoustic guitar muse allows him to show the listener a unique headspace, crafting a meditative and spiritual record without bombast or spectacle. Despite this, he never quite leaves sentimentality behind the way many of his contemporaries do, giving the record a uniquely vulnerable sensibility (that is, until he purposefully alienates you completely with the closing track).