Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: VHF Records

It starts with four foot-stomps on a wooden floor, then instruments creak; someone in the room takes a deep breath before the band goes hurtling headfirst into “Little Sadie,” an organic blast of guitar, banjo, fiddle and all kinds of ambient noise surrounding the clatter. The outlaw vocals are barely discernible, creeping from the back of the male singer’s throat. As busy as the instrumentation is, the recording is surprisingly skeletal, sounding like the next logical step in music and technology in the wake of Alan Lomax’s recordings. The pace never breaks and the dynamics don’t rise and fall; the unfamiliarity of the music makes it both abrasive and exciting. It’s just business as usual for guitarist Jack Rose.

The biography of Jack Rose could go on for hundreds of pages. Prolific and uniquely talented, Rose has taken what most people consider kitschy, novelty music and has turned it into a lifelong passion. He got his start in the drone band Pelt, but has been increasingly focused on his solo work, centering on ragtime, delta blues and other traditional American musical dialects that have been culturally endangered for decades now.

Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers
isn’t so much a great leap forward in style or experimentation for Rose, but is instead another quality installment of solo output. His guitar moves fluently through this aged collection of public domain songs, and the man seems equally as comfortable hammering forward with the wide-eyed momentum of “Soft Steel Piston” as with pulling the reins back and shuffling lightly with the square dance of “Sail Away Ladies/I Shall Not be Moved.” The album features two originals, blending in so seamlessly with the surrounding rustic tracks, you’d only know they came after the turn of the century if you read the liner notes.

While there are enough fiddle wails and banjo romps to make anyone want to retreat to the Deep South, the album does begin to drag towards the end; “Special Rider” stands in halting contrast to the rest of the record with its stalling direction, while “Bright Sunny South” feels like one more tread over well-worn ground. That said, those tracks are still infinitely more rewarding than any of today’s bands who get old-timey wild hair up their ass, but by Jack Rose standards, these songs fall noticeably flat.

What stands out most about Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers is the shear amount of music contained in these relatively short 11 songs. Because of the lo-fi quality as well as the intricacy of the compositions, it’s impossible to feel like you ever hear everything. You’ll catch yourself focusing on the banjo or the slide guitar and then suddenly realize a washboard’s been playing the whole time. Surprises like this in every song make this a rare album that’s shaped equally by the listener as it is by the performers.

by Brian Loeper
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