Jack Rose - "Cathedral Et Chartres" (I Do Play Rock And Roll)
The title might seem defensive, or just plain mystifying. The music that acoustic guitarist Jack Rose, formerly of Pelt, has played in recent years derives more from old country blues and various folk revivals than Elvis Presley, Black Flag, or Parts & Labor. Is he asserting that he can still rock just like he used to when Pelt sounded like the Dead C with a Virginia accent? Or is he just messing with us? Rose doesn’t really need to confuse or confound; his fingers are as strong as a pit bull’s jaws and you can hear it in the way his strings ring out. His music is singularly unapologetic; steeped in the sweaty-browed intensity of Delta picking and the cosmic sweep of Takoma Records stalwarts like John Fahey and Robbie Basho, it simply is what it is. So maybe “I do play rock and roll” is just a statement—of fact, since I know this guy has packed some classic rock sides for long car trips, or intent, given the undeniable physical impact or his playing.
Or maybe it’s the preamble to the phrase “and I used to play it like this.” Because whatever you want to call what he does now, this isn’t it. Rose has traversed a lot of ground between the impressionist meanderings on his first LP, Red Horse, White Mule and the succinct, tradition-steeped tunes on his most recent album, Dr. Ragtime And His Pals, and he’s ready to retire the music heard on this live CD (part of Three Lobed’s Oscilation III subscription series). The first two songs can be heard in different versions on Kensington Blues, and both are sweeping, romantic fantasias that owe a lot to Basho. Rose plays the regal “Calais to Dover” on a twelve-string, an instrument he doesn’t even own anymore because he’s said everything he has to say on it. This piece says a lot. Its opening strums sound momentous, dramatic, but it is drama wrung dry of pomp. They’re followed by spiraling figures that flow and eddy as inexorably as a mountain stream swollen by a spring thaw. It is music to get lost in.
“Cathedral et Chartres” is the more pensive composition, and is heard here in a six-string version that is darker in tone, if not spirit, than the Kensington version. Nowadays Rose seems eager to get to the point and nail whatever it is he’s playing; these tracks show that he could find something pretty marvelous by searching in someone else’s territory. “Sundogs” reaches back even farther into Rose’s personal history, but to his days in Pelt, particularly during their Hillbilly Theater of Eternal Music phase. There is no tune here, just pure, drifting sound, over twenty minutes of high-frequency shimmer coaxed from his Weissenborn lap steel braided with what sounds like a thin, unbroken ribbon of microphone feedback. If Eliane Radigue played acoustic guitar instead of ARP synthesizer, she might come up with something like this.
It might seem like a shame that Rose is walking away from music like this, and I can’t say I’d complain if he returned to it. But it’s testimony to his fidelity to his restless muse that he can set down something that someone else would turn into a career in order to see where it takes him.