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Jack Rose: "Luck In The Valley"

img  Tobias

The 10th and final solo album by the late Jack Rose marries elements of ragtime, Appalachian folk, blues, and Indian ragas in album that conjures images of the American South during the early 20th century. Built around Rose’s antiquated acoustic guitar work, Luck In The Valley breathes authenticity while managing to sound incredibly fresh and inspired. 

A specialist of pre-war American music, Rose sought to capture a spirit of spontaneity and the album was recorded live, without overdubs. Tempos fluctuate as banjo, fiddle, harmonica, jaw harp, and guitar play off of one another to create the sound of a late-day front porch jam session from a century ago. On St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy), ragtime piano, bottleneck guitar, and harmonica move between lazy loping tempos and energetic spurts of double time bounce that bring to mind silent film barroom scenes. Behind the joyous sawing fiddle of “Lick Mountain Ramble” the musicians hoot and shout in what sounds like a barnyard dance.

The music gives the impression of being mostly improvised, but the restraint of each musician keeps any single instrumentalist from really emerging to the forefront of the group. Rather, the music maintains a laid back collective feel almost meditative in nature. This is particularly noticeable in the hypnotic sounds of “The Moon In The Gutter” as fingerpicked guitar and banjo spiral through floating minor chords and descending progressions in one of the album’s most powerful and evocative pieces. Similarly, “Tree In The Valley,” a droning acoustic guitar solo in the improvised style of an Indian raga and the sitar-like sounds of the slide guitar and jaw harp in “Blues For Percy Danforth” lend a darker, pensive dimension to the album.

While moments of Luck In The Valley bring to mind Leo Kottke’s work for 6 and 12 string guitar, and most of the songs would fit perfectly on a Smithsonian Folkways compilation, Jack Rose effectively asserted his own voice within the antiquated colors of prewar America. A true master of fingerstyle guitar, Rose managed to maintain the authenticity of a music historian while weaving elements of early American folk, blues and Indian styles into a sound both authentic and deeply personal.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Jack Rose
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

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