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Jack Rose - Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

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Artist: Jack Rose

Album: Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

Label: VHF

Review date: Aug. 10, 2009

Jack Rose has spent virtually the entire decade cultivating a sound rooted in Takoma revivalism and prewar folk music to great success. Beginning with the 2001 CD-R Hung Far Low, Rose has tried different approaches for his guitar-playing talents, from acoustic six-string to lap steel to 12-string. Following a recent touring stint and last year’s reissue of Dr. Ragtime and Pals and Self-Titled, he’s back to thumbpicking the acoustic six-string for reliable imprint VHF here. Interestingly, the big story isn’t that Rose once again has his name on a flawlessly engaging folk album – it’s that he isn’t the star. Galax, Virginia’s Black Twig Pickers do far more than merely back Rose, making this one of the most compelling no-nonsense folk albums of the year.

Part of the reason these 11 songs work so well is the comfort level Rose has with the Twigs. Nathan Bowles and Mike Gangloff have recorded with Rose before on the Dr. Ragtime LP, and Gangloff and Rose got their start in improv drone unit Pelt in the mid-90s. Nobody’s worried about stepping on toes or bruising egos as a result; the two parties play like they enjoy the challenge of bringing out the best in each other both. It helps that the album features a balanced mixture of instrumentals with Gangloff-led vocal takes, rollicking foot-stompers with slower ballads, and old-time standards with Rose originals.

“Little Sadie” jumpstarts the music, a scorching rendition better familiar to listeners from Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait or Johnny Cash’s alternately titled “Cocaine Blues.” The gritty fidelity of the recording suits the Twigs at the outset, as the swirl of Isak Howell’s swift strumming, Bowles’ kitchen sink percussion, and Gangloff’s nasal drawl all but drown out Rose’s playing. Generally, the faster the song, the more it’s a Twigs kind of time (understandable given that these guys host a monthly dance night at Floyd Country Store outside Roanoke). While it’s evident Rose is more at home on contemplative instrumentals like “Special Rider” or his own “Revolt,” that famous fingerpicking goodness can still shine on faster jams such as “Soft Steel Piston” and “Ride Ole Buck.” A pleasant surprise is Pelt original “Bright Sunny South” lodged late in the album, just before “Goodbye Booze” brings the album to a woozy close.

Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers is a smartly presented package featuring the most interesting elements of traditional Appalachian folk music that won’t get dull, because it doesn’t rely solely on one influence or another. The synchronicity Jack Rose and the Twigs were in when they made this record is plain to see, and as counterweights for the others’ creative tendencies, there’s no other way it could’ve turned out.

By Patrick Masterson

Other Reviews of Jack Rose

Raag Manifestos

Kensington Blues

Dr. Ragtime and His Pals / Self-Titled

I Do Play Rock and Roll

Luck in the Valley

Read More

View all articles by Patrick Masterson

Find out more about VHF

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