Jack Rose Luck in the Valley

[Thrill Jockey; 2010]

Styles: droning ragas, pre-war blues, ragtime
Others: John Fahey, Blind Blake, W.C. Fields, Sir Richard Bishop, Pelt

After attending Jack Rose’s memorial show at Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room, it dawned on me just how widespread his influence was. While many of his peers are evolving the tradition of the Takoma-esque guitar style, Rose was really beginning to spearhead the movement and take it to the next level by incorporating early bluegrass, droning psychedelia, pre-war blues, and virtuosic ragas. His track-record is a rather logical progression from the minimalist droning of Pelt to his intensely complex, fluid finger-picking style of recent years, but the one thing that tied all these threads together was his respect for the wood that lay beneath his arm. He kept things simple, and people related to that. Because his recordings spoke so simply to his audience, Rose could open for Sonic Youth or Peter Walker and it would be the same experience. His final opus, Luck in the Valley, expands on his previous palette and culminates the sounds that have been gracefully flowing from his fingers for the past decade as a solo artist.

A number of the tracks are covers, a testament to Rose’s respect for his peers both alive and passed. He had a way of picking covers; whether it was his offshoot album with the legendary South Virginian Black Twig Pickers or his Dr. Ragtime recordings, everything he touched was full of sincerity. The first cover here is “Saint Louis Blues” (the W.C. Handy ragtime standard), a song that’s been heard worldwide by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, and The Flamin’ Groovies. The track speaks across generations, something Rose himself did a hell of a job achieving, and he does so admirably here too. He also takes on Blind Blake’s “West Coast Blues,” a song written by a man who very few knew anything about. Perhaps the greatest honor to a traditional tune is to add it to your repertoire and pass it on, and Rose kept this tradition alive with style.

The original arrangements on Luck in the Valley are nothing to shy away from either. The album opener, “Blues for Percy Danforth,” is in honor of the percussive, bone-playing technique master, creating a Pelt-like drone-wash of mouth harp and slide guitar, with the quiet sound of Rose shifting in his seat. He settles into a consistent run with the Appalachia-stomper “Lick Mountain Ramble” and then knocks the ragtime blues out of the park with “When the Tailgate Drops, The Bullshit Stops,” a track he regularly performed with Harmonica Dan, Nathan Bowles, and The Black Twig Pickers. “Moon in the Gutter” is arguably the album’s peak, a beautiful Fahey-style burner that contains a guitar/banjo duo that is musically simplistic, but emotionally complex due to its trance-inducing nature.

From firsthand accounts by his friends and peers, it’s clear that Rose had an awe-inspiring presence. Whether he was sitting hunched behind his 12- and 6-string beauties, cooking and drinking with his loved ones, or spreading the word about his current favorite record off the shelf, he did it all with passion. Luck in the Valley is the last of his contributions, but his presence will be felt through his recordings in the years ahead. He will be missed.

Links: Jack Rose - Thrill Jockey

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