Two Originals Of Jack Rose
ack Rose, the lead guitarist from the avant folk group Pelt, emerges here on his first solo CD, putting together two ultra-rare LPs (Red Horse, White Mule and Opium Musick) recorded for the Eclipse label, and, in so doing, positions himself as one of the few heirs to the solo folk guitar tradition paved by John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Of course their forebears go back far further, but for those coming to this music for the first time Fahey and Kottke are the gold standard against which most solo guitar is now measured. Luckily, Rose’s recordings here show both his deference of, and innovation upon, their heavy influence.
The album leads off with the lengthy “Red Horse”, a winding finger-picked masterpiece that ebbs and flows throughout, building up steam for two distinct climaxes over its length. It's immediately followed by one of the major highlights of the disc, in the form of a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”. This radical interpretation of the blues classic is a stunning, melancholic rumination on its predecessor that does more than adequate justice to the source material.
“Yaman Blues” emerges as the next major track of note, featuring Rose’s bandmate in Pelt, Mike Gangloff on tampoura, and sounds much like that group, with some Middle Eastern drone and abstract guitar work by Rose. But unlike Pelt where the guitar becomes subsumed into the group’s sound, Rose’s instrument is mixed higher and more strongly, allowing his almost ghostly, spectral melodies to float over the drone instead of within it.
This is followed by another duet, “Linden Ave. Stomp”, this time with Cul De Sac’s Glenn Jones, wherein the duo plays very similar lines for a short time before riffing around and beside one another. It’s a gracefully executed song full of life and promise, much like any good stomp should be. Following this are two more Rose solo works, closing out the disc far from where it opened, but just as beautifully (“Mountaintop Lamento” being a particular favorite).
There is a revealing quote from Rose in a recent issue of The Wire in which he talks about the inability of modern artists to exactly replicate the sounds of the past and, more specifically, the rhythms of pre-World War II guitar work. Rose says that he “tries to, but I can’t quite pull it off, so it ends up…somewhere…inexplicable”. Judging by the work found here, he’s right. Indebted to but certainly never aping his heroes, Rose has crafted a strange area within solo guitar playing that he occupies alone right now. Others are doing interesting work within the genre, as evidenced by the marvelous Wooden Guitar compilation, but there is something familiar and unsettling about the sound that Rose is creating. It’s the sound of an artist slowly making his way through history and coming out the other side with something all their own.