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Jack Rose - Kensington Blues

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Artist: Jack Rose

Album: Kensington Blues

Label: VHF

Review date: Oct. 3, 2005

Jack Rose has been going places lately, and the evidence is all over this splendid record. The names of six of its eight tunes refer to places, some easy to find on a map (“Calais To Dover”), some harder to pin down (“Cross the North Fork”). Another brings up the journey we all must eventually take (“Flirtin’ with the Undertaker”).

The guitarist has toured like a demon in the year that preceded this recording, and it shows in the best possible ways. Every track is a first take, and each radiates the confidence of a man who knows he can just sit down and nail it, no problem. Rose has never sounded better; some credit must go to engineer Mike Chaffin for an exceptionally bright and present recording job, but more must go to the artist for the clarity, strength and purposefulness of his finger picking.

He also forges ahead in his material, sometimes by turning back the clock. Working backwards is part of his MO – remember that he recorded crumbling rock, acoustic trance, and full-on noise with Pelt for half a dozen years before he laid down his first finger-style performances. Kensington Blues includes a couple delightful ragtime tunes, his first compositions in that ancient but honorable style. It also features several winding, quasi-narrative fantasias, pieces that will lose you in the sheer gorgeousness of their sound without ever really getting lost; go ahead, try and stay rooted in this time and place whilst listening to “North Fork” or “Cathedral et Chartres” (forgive his French – you’d do the same for Chic). If you do, you’ve got some serious karmic baggage weighing down your soul.

“Now that I’m a Man Full Grown II,” his latest Indian-style slide piece, picks up where Rose’s side of the By The Fruits You Shall Know The Roots compilation left off. It accelerates slowly, affording plenty of time to appreciate his voluptuous tone on the lap steel before he builds to a thrilling breakneck climax and elegant denouement.

Rose also travels to the mountain. He’s dedicated music to John Fahey, but here he finally records one of the man’s compositions. His version of “Sunflower River Blues” sounds regal, unflappable and complete in the way that, say, Rose’s pleasant but somewhat hurried cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground” on his first album was not. Truly he is a man full grown, and this is one of the best albums in any genre to come out in 2005.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Jack Rose

Raag Manifestos

Dr. Ragtime and His Pals / Self-Titled

I Do Play Rock and Roll

Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

Luck in the Valley

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View all articles by Bill Meyer

Find out more about VHF

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