Wild Mercury Sound

Various Artists: "Honest Strings: A Tribute To The Life And Work Of Jack Rose"

John Mulvey

When a bunch of musicians start hanging out, journalists have always been keen on anointing a new scene. The musicians themselves, of course, are usually determined to run a mile from stifling classifications. They’re not a movement, they’ll almost invariably claim, they just happen to be good friends.

Jack Rose, an extraordinary guitarist who straddled the worlds of traditional and experimental music with more aplomb than most, died on December 5, 2009. As the internet filled up with memorials to the man, it became apparent that, for many, the quality of Rose’s music was inexorably connected with the generosity of his spirit. If you’d been making interesting underground music over the past decade, chances were that you’d have some resonating personal experience of the man. Consequently, Rose started to look like an enduring community figurehead, and the acts of remembrance for him crystallised into something concrete and inspiring.

Specifically, "Honest Strings: A Tribute To The Life And Work Of Jack Rose", a project curated by the Three Lobed label’s Cory Rayborn, that is both a testament to Rose, and an encyclopaedic primer to, for want of a better genre tag, New Weird American music. "Honest Strings" is only available to buy as a download (for $15, from www.fina-music.com, all proceeds going to Rose’s estate), most likely because its 41 tracks last for a good six and a half hours. The longest – at 54 minutes - comes from Joseph Mattson, reading the first 35 pages of his hardboiled beat novel "Empty The Sun"; the amount of the book that Rose had finished when he died.

Before that, though, there are longform psychedelic jams, rickety hoedowns, guitar soli and touching reminiscences. often involving whiskey. For such a sprawling and disparate endeavour, "Honest Strings" works wonderfully as a whole – though life might mitigate against you listening to it all the way through very often. Constantly, track after track echoes Rose’s spontaneous, unself-conscious, yet always craftsmanlike approach to ignoring musical boundaries. It makes sense, then, that a swaggering piano rag by sometime Rose collaborator Hans Chew (“The Heart Is Deceitful”) should share compilation space with a 42-minute drone meditation by Rose’s old band, Pelt (“Louisville Susurration”).

There are plenty more old Rose cohorts included, like the Black Twig Pickers and D Charles Speer & The Helix (Rose’s last recording, a joint EP with this country-rocking gang called “Ragged And Right” is just out, too). Inevitably, the tracklisting of Honest Strings can often read like a Who’s Who of downhome explorers, including as it does Six Organs Of Admittance, Hush Arbors, MV & EE, James Toth (aka Wooden Wand), Elisa Ambrogio (from Magik Markers), Loren Connors, Voice Of The Seven Thunders’ Rick Tomlinson and a remarkable, Maggot-Brained field recording by Sunburned Hand Of The Man.

Happily, though, "Honest Strings" also reveals an extended family of artists previously unknown to me. Among the multifarious acoustic guitarists on display, it’s a San Franciscan called Danny Paul Grody (once of post-rockers Tarentel, I learn) who stands out, with a rippling, delayed piece called “Candle” that passes from folk, through systems music, into sacred ambience (Mountains might be a good comparison).

And from the rockier tracks, this morning’s pick is a bug-eyed choogle called “(Now I’m A Pharmacist)Boogie”, by one Chris Forsyth. Perhaps this is the greatest strength of "Honest Strings"; that it doesn’t just celebrate the greatness of Jack Rose and his music, it uncovers a whole new sub-strata of artists working away with the same kind of vision, passion and cussed integrity.

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