Rosie Thomas : Only With Laughter Can You Win

Everything about this record is pretty, yet on the verge of tumbling into `cute’, and towards the end of the record, into yuck. Folk songstress Rosie Thomas’ second album is quiet and delicate, an album that begs for its listeners’ solitude. It is one of those ubiquitous Sunday morning albums, meant for playing while the day slowly starts to unfold with the newspaper, a cup of tea, and the jammies still on.

The first and most noticeable aspect of the CD is the artwork. There is almost nothing that can describe just how pink this album is. I would have loved to have sat in on that meeting at Sub Pop regarding the album’s graphics. The look of the album must have sent the label’s mainstays that saw the design of Bleach released into fits. On the back cover we find the singer dolled up like a three year-old, and while at first `cute’, as I mentioned earlier, after hearing the album, it became a little offensive.

It is apparent that Rosie’s biggest influence is Joni Mitchell. The soft and lilting vocals are easily reminiscent of Joni’s work in the early seventies. I also found Ms. Thomas to be akin to a more girlie version of Gillian Welch or Patty Griffin. I’ll admit right now that I’m probably not the right person to review this album. While I love folk music, including the artists mentioned above, and plenty of others, I like my music dark dark dark! I’m talking Bonnie `Prince’ Billy’s “Death to Everyone”. I’m talking Neil Finn’s “Twisty Bass”. Do you see what I`m getting at?

This might be why I believe the best song on the album is “One More Day”. Although it can be interpreted as an uplifting song, I found it to be a musical suicide note. Upon hearing the rest of the music on the album I knew that this probably was not her purpose in writing it, but I’ve always believed it’s up to the listener to decide on a meaning.

So where did this album all go wrong? Songs like “I Play Music” and “Gradually” can grate after repeated listening, sure, but they’re not all that bad. Rosie’s music and voice are more childlike and simpler than Joni Mitchell’s, but in and of itself, this is not necessarily a problem. Her cutesy image is a little pandering and annoying, but again, not terrible. So why did I find fault with this album?

Well, like so many of her folk contemporaries, including labelmate Damien Jurado, guest Sam Beam, fellow Michigan-er Sufjan Stevens, and a host of others, Rosie Thomas is spiritual. However, unlike say Stevens, her faith is judgmental and overbearing. While Stevens, on his album Seven Swans sings of his love for his faith, Thomas, on this album, judges everyone who does not believe what she believes. Religion has its place in music. I love Johnny Cash, one of the most prolific in religious songwriting. I am a huge Prince fan, who has always put religion into his music. The difference is in the song “Tell Me How”:

How am I to define what faith is to a child
when the only explanation lies within?
How am I to tell them if they never follow Christ
That heaven doesn’t hold a place for them?

It was at this point that my tolerance escaped me and the train that is the CD derailed and crashed spectacularly. I respect people’s religious views and I can even handle when adults get in each other’s faces about them. This is a fair fight. But when an adult questions a child’s beliefs, a person whose gifts, thoughts, and opinions are nowhere near being fully formed, that’s just out of bounds. And now, of course, her appearance as a child on the back cover, holding a dolly and everything, is just twisted. Shame on you, Rosie Thomas, I expected better.

Similar Albums:
Damien Jurado- Ghost of David
Joni Mitchell- Ladies of the Canyon
Patty Griffin- Living With Ghosts

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Rosie Thomas - Only With Laughter Can You Win

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