It seems that now, more than ever, Jack Rose deserves to be mentioned among other such folk legends as Paul Bunyan and John Henry for his involvement in furthering the mythic concept in American culture. If solely for his incredibly solid contributions to the floundering art form of traditional, finger-picked folk, Jack Rose’s departure leaves a profound void in the musical world. A discography that spanned over a dozen records, including his former work with Richmond, Va., drone band Pelt, culminated with the posthumous release of Luck in the Valley. The record, a most impressive set of ten heart wrenching, heart warming, and at times cryptic tracks, displays an intimidatingly vast knowledge of how to create a spellbindingly emotive and tender ballad within the elastic structure of a blues song. Combining an eastern tinged sensibility with the droning repetiton of his earlier days, Luck in the Valley follows admirably in the footsteps of guitar legends John Fahey and Leo Kotke, yet in his unique playing style and as a result of his broad influences, Rose serves to manufacture much more than a carbon copy of the work of fellow legends. His sound, though arguably anachronistic, can serve as a reminder of the severely poignant possibilities that lay hidden in modern acoustic guitar output.
From the very first fade in on “Blues for Percy Danforth,” the album’s opening track, Rose treats his audience to an Indian sounding ditty that seems to evoke the smooth motions of a down river canoe ride straight through the backwoods of Georgia. The song is complete with a subtle, reverbed harmonica track hovering slightly below the droning guitar track and a distant mouth harp that serves to cement the antebellum atmosphere created in the sound. As the song progresses, Rose’s guitar work gets niftier, as he moves up the guitar in a down stroke fashion, flaunting his impressive finger picking skills, accordingly his band members pick up pace, resulting in a quick, ragtime blues piece that grows and grows with the runs and bends on the acoustic. There is a meditative ebb and flow that is naturally conveyed through the song; the steeper the river’s decline gets, the quicker and more frenzied the trills become, until gradually the slope recedes into a larger, more scenic body of water, leading neatly into the record’s remaining tracks.
The second track, “Lick Mountain Ramble,” offers the feeling of an established bluegrass band, deep into their second set, pulling out the show stopper in order to get the slightly drunken crowd back on their feet and moving again. Boasting a slippery slide guitar and relentless fiddle, Jack Rose’s band generates an uproarious mood; a jovial ambiance only to be replaced by the earth shatteringly grave “Woodpiles on the Side of the Road.” Throughout the album, Rose juxtaposes the upbeat, bluegrass styling with slower, more sorrowful, enveloping pieces that thrive on his introspective guitar picking habits. On the title track, Rose masterfully blends the two concepts, creating a most jarring track that simultaneously moves your feet to tap and your head to hang wistfully as your mind labors to decide upon the proper response to a song at once so grief-stricken and enriching. In the end, the act of enjoyment, whether in self-pity or in shared euphoria, is exactly was Rose seemed to want to cull from his listeners.
I suppose it will be up to time to see how and to what extent Jack Rose will be remembered. Like so many talented and worthwhile artists who passed before receiving substantial or warranted acclaim, Jack Rose’s deserved eulogy is contingent upon, at the very least, a small scale musical renaissance in the next few years. If it stands that Jack Rose is destined to remain in darkness, let it be understood that this reviewer strongly recommends any and all readers to do themselves the favor and make the simple electronic transaction of adding Luck in the Valley to your iTunes library, if only for the reason of transporting yourself to a time where such luxuries were not presented, and the merits of your guitar skills were not determined by the size of your pedal board.
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