Every once in awhile an album sneaks up on you and crawls beneath the surface of your skin, and there it stays in this unshakable way while you play said album over and over again, until you have had enough to make you feel less alone, or maybe just more understood. It is then that you can sit it back on the shelf, allowing it to co-exist and play all those musical games that your music collection partake in when we sleep, and while we turn our ears onto something else. I liken this kind of happening to a falling all over each other love affair, or the unsuspecting collide that happens between two people when they realize they have this connection, and suddenly out of nowhere they find they are now close friends. I think sometimes that kind of rush overwhelms people, and they shy away from it, or run from it with their arms waving frantically in the air; not me, I welcome these moments with my arms flailing in a different way, shaking and spinning in joy.
These Friends of Mine did that to me, it came along unexpectedly and grabbed onto my musical soul, showing no sign of letting go anytime soon. To be honest I did not expect it to happen. I slipped the CD in to give it a first listen in the place I like to think of as the listening haven, my car stereo; as there is no better place to experience recorded music then while driving with a window partially down. Honestly prior to pushing play I had no big expectations. All I knew of Rosie Thomas was a song I had heard a snippet of during an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the song “Let Myself Fall,” that ended up a part of a wedding mix made for two dear friends who were tying the knot. It was a beautiful love song, sung by a lovely voice, but that was as far as I got with it. I recall another friend of mine who shares many of my musical tastes, telling me about Rosie once. We had snuck off for a lunchtime trip to a local record store to indulge in our drug of choice and to escape cubicle hell, and she mentioned in passing how Rosie used to sing at a place where we both hung out, and how she wanted to drive up to Seattle to see her play.
So, when I saw Rosie Thomas on a list of albums to listen to, and possibly review, my curiosity was piqued. She was a familiar name and that one song I had heard was good; perhaps this would be an album worth hearing. When the opening guitar chords started to fill my car at the start of “If This City Never Sleeps,” my ears pricked up, and as soon as Rosie’s voice started singing the lines “Oh at night when I sleep all the dreams come to me/ make me believe that my life is not my own/ And if life were like my dreams, all the things I would see/ I would be so much braver than I know,” I found myself turning up the volume and taking the song straight into my bloodstream. The next song started to play soon after, and before it started there was this laughter and conversation that was so pure and relatable, that I felt as if I had snuck into someone else’s life for a moment and was standing there silently witnessing a moment of true friendship. We have all had them, I am sure of it, when you find yourself laughing at everything and nothing with dear friends, knowing full well that the contents of this time will turn itself into shared inside jokes and personal history.
“Why Waste More Time?” resonated with me, like it was sitting there next to me, singing along with my existence, especially when Thomas sings, “It may cause some pain, I know, but pain is all you know/ And it may be the only way to know if you can get yourself back up.” Rosie’s stark vocals, with Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens singing along, seemed so personal and intimate, much like the captured banter between them at the start of the song. When I found out later that this song was recorded in Sufjan’s kitchen, I just had to smile because it made so much sense; that kind of communal connection and warmth I have always found among friends while hanging about in someone’s kitchen.
Three covers found their way onto this album, the first of which is R.E.M.’s classic “The One I Love.” I remember reading Michael Stipe’s remarks on this song, stating adamantly that it was not a love song, that it was too dark and brutal to be taken in such a way. Rosie makes it a love song, though. Sufjan and Rosie’s change in arrangement, and restructured melody, simplifies the song and makes it feel almost holy; each word a confession of love that feels like it will never be doubted or taken for granted. Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” is the other most recognizable cover on the album, the original a personal favorite of mine. I have heard many people take this song on, and this version is as lovely as the light string section behind it. There is nothing new to hear in it, no changes in the song itself, but it comes across like a graceful thank you nodded at the original, and sometimes that is all a cover song needs to be.
“All the Way to New York City” is the best kind of storytelling, a painted picture so vivid that you close your eyes and see the people existing within the lyrical refrains. At this point of the album I had reached my destination, but refused to get out of the car. I just sat there in the parking lot listening to this song take me along to the characters’ dream of New York City: “We can take my station wagon and fill it to the brim, and wave goodbye to all our lovely friends, never to return again.” Those lyrics just made me stare out into the night and remember packing my life up into my car so many times before, and taking off onto the road of Never Look Back and Never Return.
Sufjan and Rosie bring to life a catchy call and response number, “Say Hello,” that easily became my favorite track on the album. It is innocent and wistful, and so precious that I want to scoop it up and carry it around in a warm embrace. You cannot help but sing along to this song and take bits and pieces of it with you, out into the world, causing you to have this bursting desire to say hello to everyone you pass on the street. This song reminds me of a few literary characters who have met by chance and found love in the arms of each other, and in the neon cast shadows of a looming city—in this case New York—and I suppose it writes a new love story in the contents of this album’s 33 minutes. The songs, all of them, become a blueprint of a plot that goes something like this: boy and girl meet city, then meet each other, and fall madly for both together. And sitting alone in my car, listening, I was falling in love along with Rosie, her stories and those musical friends of hers.
Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
Joan as Police Woman – Real Life
Azure Ray – Burn and Shiver