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Jack Rose - Dr. Ragtime And His Pals / Self-Titled

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 8 / 5 / 2008

Jack Rose - Dr. Ragtime And His Pals / Self-Titled
Label: Beautiful Happiness
Format: CD


Evocative, but patchy 30's-influenced bloues on double CD from Philadelphian guitarist which eventually ends up being too much of a good thing

Philadelphian guitarist Jack Rose isn’t the kind of guy who’s likely to be troubled by the concept of keeping up to date with the latest trends. It’s a fair bet to say that he won’t be producing a concept album based around Afrobeat, grime, electroclash, or whatever the latest musical style flagged up at the moment is, for his next opus. If anything, this double-CD collection – which reissues some recordings from 2006 simply entitled 'Self Titled' alongside newer material centred around his "alter-ego" 'Dr Ragtime & Pals' – feels like Rose has treated even further into his hypnotic folk blues, shorn of any modern technological accoutrements. This feeling is exacerbated by the sepia-ingrained cover shot of two musicians in hats and workman-like clothes, which looks like it was taken in roughly 1932. Not that primitivism is a bad thing: it’s a fallacy to suggest that all music which uses pre-digital equipment and ‘real’ instruments should be judged negatively on the grounds that it isn’t sufficiently ground-breaking or technologically advanced. In any case, Rose isn’t entirely cut off from the present: his history as a member of drone-rockers Pelt will attest to that, as well as his presence on the Philadelphia and surrounding Pennsylvania scene that takes in the likes of Espers and Bardo Pond, as well as Vermont’s MV & EE with The Bummer Road, whose rambling space-blues isn’t a million miles away from Rose’s more stripped-back approach. The sense that Rose is more than just a dreamer sitting on his porch was solidified with the magnificent 'Raag Manifestos' and 'Kensington Blues' albums, released in 2004 and 2005 respectively, in which he established his reputation firmly in the context of ‘American Primitive’ guitarists such as John Fahey and Robbie Basho. With its open modal tunings bringing forth hypnotic cascading sitar-like riffs on tracks like 'Black Pearls From The River' and 'Cross The North Fork', they illustrated Rose’s extraordinary dexterity on the guitar. Evocative and sounding somehow totally new despite its roots in blues and folk, these albums established Rose as a major talent. Blessed with an enormously expressive guitar style, his exquisitely intricate, hand-picked twelve-string steel guitar playing on those albums and on here reach some beautiful places, particularly on 'Revolt', a highlight of the first CD in this double album, where he weaves pattern of guitar like gossamer on a harp, evoking rainbows on summer days. 'Bells', meanwhile, is a slower beast, laden down by heavy reverb. Elsewhere, there’s so much jug band blues and jaunty numbers over the two CDs that it’s hard to escape the feeling that while Rose’s fluid guitar-playing – enhanced by the sparsest of accompanying washboard, harmonica, duelling guitar courtesy of Cul de Sac’s Glenn Jones, and banjo played by former Pelt member Mike Gangloff – can be an entrancing thing indeed, it’s one best suited to a single album, whose truncated, compact nature suits Rose’s style directly. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that two many songs sound rather of the same ilk, with little to distinguish between them. That said, the near-thirteen minute epic 'Spirits In the House', the penultimate track on Self Titled, remains a jaw-dropping piece of work, up there with anything from his previous work. Beginning with a familiar modal chime, it begins with an evocatively smokey feel reminiscent of late nights on the porch in the front of the shack, in the summer heat. Over the next thirteen minutes it builds and builds, picking up layers of speed, and remains spellbinding stuff. Worth it for the price of both CDs alone, but it doesn’t quite dispel the notion that two CDs of Rose in one go may simply be too much. Like fine wine, Rose is perfect for late nights alone but probably better to take in moderation.

Track Listing:-
1 Miss May's Place
2 Revolt
3 Song For The Owl
4 Bells
5 Knoxville Blues
6 Fishtown Flower
7 Dusty Grass
8 Soft Steel Piston
9 Linden Ave Stomp
10 Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord
11 Walkin' Blues
12 Buckdancer's Choice
13 Levee
14 Revolt
15 St. Louis Blues
16 Miss Mary's Place
17 Gage Blues
18 Spirits In The House
19 Dark Was The Night

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