Jack Rose – Red Horse, White Mule (VHF vinyl edition)

5 out of 5

Label: VHF Records

Produced by: Mike Chaffin (recorded by)

Over the years, I listened to a lot of Pelt, and Jack Rose. Despite this, and despite loving the band’s and the artist’s output, I always seem to approach listening to an album (whether new to it or not) with trepidation: extended drone; solo Americana guitar pluckings? I’ve got Converge albums to review, do I have time for this?

While Pelt is != Jack Rose, because Rose played with the former, I can’t help but link the two, and there seems to be some compositional carryover in how their music can criss-cross from minimalism to maximalism, and improv-seeming to controlled-seeming, all seamlessly, all across albums or intra-songs, and my reaction is often the same as well: that once you start listening to Pelt or Jack Rose, that’s suddenly all you want to listen to for awhile. Nothing quite matches the depths and ever-shifting feelings of their music. That’s the trepidation – some kind of animal response coded into my tastes that needs to listen to this stack of CDs, but puts on Jack Rose’s first solo album (as rereleased by VHF and Three-Lobed Records), and now I’m going back through all my Rose material, or maybe just spinning Red Horse for the Nth time…

5 tracks, all gorgeous, and/or emotive, and/or playful, and/or edgy. It’s just Rose and a guitar, but it feels like it could be a room’s worth of guitarists. The opener – the first half of the title, Red Horse – is all plucked, and seems to set a tempo of gentleness – contemplative, soothing music. It is that, but Rose expands and contracts during the 16 minutes, speeding up and slowing down and complexifying and simplifying, without it ever feel like he’s re-hashing, or stretching things beyond a point. It’s very “composed;” we feel guided from that calming starting point to something comparatively upbeat, quickening the whole while and then leading you back down the path.

Followup Dark Was the Night is an emotional counterpoint, using slide guitar and a paced, evasive structure to create some sad and edgy but also to the point – it’s a compact 2.5 minutes.

The two part White Mule then bridges a lot of this, with its brief first part very warm, darker notes immediately taking over for the second part. This latter track – 9.5 minutes – is also, wisely, the main moment on the disc where you can sense Rose improvising, and that looseness, and that it’s the sole (obvious) example of that lends it even more weight, pushed and pulled as Jack shreds away at an emotive core.

A harshness ends the experience – Hide the Whiskey is scratchy, brutal stuff, and completely unexpected on the back of the clear tones we’ve heretofore heard. And again, Rose knows how to make his point, keeping it at shy of 4 minutes; a lasting impression on your brain that does not overstay its welcome, encouraging that fateful choice – to go back for more drinks of these alcohol-named tunes, or break out the rest of the Rose catalogue…

As an extra note on the vinyl release, I have no idea what blues scholar Kisan Nagai’s back-spanning text is talking about. Whenever ultra literates folks like this start to schmooze on about something – and that something here is about how up its own ass Americana music is as it relates to worries about castration – my inclination is to cough and say “that’s nice,” in the same way one might reply to one of my deep dives on TMNT lore or whatever, but then when Nagai gets around to talking about Bugs Bunny reclamations and drunken ducks, I start to wonder if he’s trolling a bit. I dunno. I’m sure there are scores of papers written on the crossover of sexuality expression and this type of music, and I’m missing out, and Nagai is about one million ten dollar words more intelligent than me, but it took me like nine hours to read just six paragraphs because it wasn’t doing much for me. But I appreciate its inclusion…? Much more importantly, of course, is the quality of the vinyl edition, which is crystal clear and deservedly rich. It’s likely just the bias listening to this on its own provides, but I found this a much warmer listen than VHF’s previous release of this (bundled w/ Opium Musick as ‘Two Originals of Jack Rose’) on CD.