Something slightly uncomfortable about wondering how much music remains unreleased in the Jack Rose archives, following his passing at the end of last year. It’s scant consolation for his loved ones, I’m sure, that the rest of us are keen on getting unheard music from him for a while longer.
That said, I suspect whatever comes out bearing Rose’s name is likely to further enhance his reputation; his touch and good judgment always seemed so constant that it’s hard to envisage anything sub-par being dredged up. And if this “Ragged And Right” EP is anything to go by, we might discover that his creative reach stretched even further than most of us envisaged.
“Ragged And Right”, Rose’s last recording, is a hook-up with D Charles Speer & The Helix, a loose-looking bunch fronted by Dave Shuford of the No Neck Blues Band, and also featuring the pianist Hans Chew, who figured on other Rose sessions, plus Marc Orleans from Sunburned Hand Of The Man.
That lineup might suggest Rose edging towards scorched improv territory, closer to his Pelt work than later solo releases. In fact, though, The Helix turn out to be a raggle-taggle crew of highly skilled players who can knock out rowdy, folksy boogies as effectively as they can turn their hands to free music.
Consequently, the nearest analogue in Rose’s catalogue is the 2008 album with the Black Twig Pickers, with this one a radiant electrified session. The elevated joy in the act of playing shines through every note, even on a hardbitten country ballad like “Prison Song”, with Shuford (I assume) using his best outlaw baritone, and some amazingly ornate playoffs between Rose, Orleans (I think) on steel and the really outstanding Chew.
Next up, there’s a Jack Rose/Glenn Jones-authored beauty called “Linden Avenue Stomp”, a rolling and keening marvel which, like the Black Twig Pickers’ stuff, feels like such an open-hearted and full-blooded, enormously unprissy embrace of roots music. It’s here they really take flight, though the experimental imperative is disciplined, channelled, reminiscent in some ways of the Grateful Dead and maybe the New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
“The Longer You Wait” is a Merle Haggard song attacked with similar gusto, and finally there’s a take on “In The Pines” which begins with some a capella goofing and proceeds to gleefully disregard all the spectral gloom which contemporary musicians (Kurt Cobain, Mark Lanegan, Bill Callahan) have brought to the song. It sounds like a riotous, visionary, uplifting hoedown, one where you can almost smell the good times in the recording room; a wonderful way to memorialise a great musician.
As, I suspect, is this: “Honest Strings: A Tribute To The Life And Work Of Jack Rose”, a tremendous-looking digital comp that costs $15, runs for six and a half hours and features, deep breath, D Charles Speer, MV & EE, Rick Tomlinson, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Pelt, No Neck Blues Band, Black Twig Pickers, Hans Chew, Six Organs Of Admittance, Hush Arbors, Spectre Folk, Elisa Ambrogio and an epically impressive cast of artists. I’m going to grab a copy and give it a go.