In a 24-hour period, I have discovered, had my heart broken by, and am now sitting here missing the late Jack Rose.
Rose, by all accounts, was one of those musicians too good to be real: a 12-string zenmaster in a flannel shirt; a bushy-haired wool-capped Weissenborn djinn. Equally at home with a classical Indian raga or a foot-thumping jug band blues, Rose was in it for the music … the fact that he could make a living doing it was a bonus. Anyone who played music with the guy talks about his talent, his passion – and his old soul.
May the soul live on; Jack Rose died of a heart attack on December 5, 2009th at the age of 38.
So here I am, knowing nothing about the rest of Rose’s recorded work except for samples glommed up online since yesterday – from the groan-skwonk of the electric drone trio Pelt in the ‘90s to Rose’s finding himself deep within the body of a beat-up acoustic guitar (2005’s Kensington Blues being the album that most people recognize as Rose’s musical coming-of-age effort).
But for right now I have my hands, head, and heart full with the just-released Luck In The Valley, completed shortly before Rose’s passing. A mix of both solo pieces and circles of musical friends, Luck In The Valley is a lovely piece of work – and all the goddamn sadder because of it.
How do you describe the music on Luck In The Valley with words on a page? Jack Rose had the technical chops of John Fahey with more sweat, grit, and smiles. There’s some of David Lindley’s inner-space tone and beautiful weirdness in there, too. And Leo Kottke almost sounds stiff in comparison to some of Rose’s explorations. The tracks on Luck In The Valley were all cut live with things happening as they wanted to in the moment – and when others sat in to share the sound with Rose, they really were right there at that moment … everybody was on the same hum.
Spin this thing and pick a track. There’s joyous jug: “When Tailgate Drops, The Bullshit Stops” (rolling and tumbling bliss); the save-your-soul bounce of “Everybody Ought To Pray Sometime”; the sleeve-gartered swagger of “Saint Louis Blues”. When it’s just Rose by himself hunkered over his 12-string on the title cut, he’s Jorma and Jack at the same time. “Tree In The Valley” is 6 minutes and 18 seconds of gorgeous tension, waiting for the other shoe to drop … which it does (gently) on the final chord. The minor-keyed lap-steel growl of “Woodpiles On The Side Of The Road” makes you want to turn your collar up against the wind while the slap-your-knee-and-stomp-your-workboots yee-haw of “Lick Mountain Ramble” is a smile generator, pure and simple. And the album-closing cover of Blind Blake’s “West Coast Blues” is like a happy/sweet/sad wave goodbye.
Me, I keep going back to the opening cut, “Blues For Percy Danforth” and getting myself lost in the nicest of ways. Rose and his Weissenborn take us on an unhurried journey, beginning with a raga that glides above a wavy field of jaw harp and occasional sitar-like harmonica fills. I have a hard time getting beyond the mystic magic of this piece: it’s easy to imagine Rose, sweaty curls and all, melting/morphing into the lap steel, reaching the point where you can hear the moments when the strings actually take a breath. The emotion of the song builds slowly into a full-scale sonic river, all whirl and swirl … eventually tapering off to end in a gently-resonating pool.
If you already knew Jack Rose’s music, then none of this comes as a surprise, I’m sure. But if you’re like me – arriving on the scene too late to do anything but sit here and shake my head – Luck In The Valley feels like the perfect way to say “hello” and “goodbye” at the same time.