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Jack Rose - Luck in the Valley

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Artist: Jack Rose

Album: Luck in the Valley

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 15, 2010

The news of Jack Rose’s sad and premature passing spread quickly on the morning of December 5. As the creator of an extensive, passionately crafted and constantly expanding discography (both as a solo artist and a member of the ensemble Pelt), Rose’s reputation as a sort of modern-day folk savant was on the upswing, and figured to rise a few more notches as he readied the release of Luck in the Valley, his first album for Thrill Jockey. Some two month’s out from that first shocking news of his death, listening to Luck in the Valley‘s 10 track cycle is unsurprisingly bittersweet — a great piece of work from a man inarguably cut down in his prime, it plays cool and confident all the way through, but with a constant reminder that these are the last lines Jack’s fingers will ever speak.

None of Rose’s records ever came with a particularly huge evolutionary leap. Instead, they played more like new editions of classic book — introducing a few new techniques, refining a couple others, and expanding on ideas he’d only touched on previously. This time out, his work with the Black Twig Pickers and the crew he assembled for the Dr. Ragtime and His Pals LP weighs heavily, making this not only one of the more collaborative releases in Rose’s oeuvre, but one of the most slyly playful as well, punctuated by three outstanding renditions of tunes from W.C. Handy, Blind Blake, and Dennis Crumpton and Robert Summers.

Even still, Rose made room to stretch out. Pieces like “Woodpiles on the Side of the Road” and “Tree in the Valley” find him taking lengthy pulls at gorgeous slide figures and drone-based movements, respectively. Front to back, it’s classic Jack Rose, and while the themes and tones may still be the same, his playing is more assured than ever, summoning a power and immediacy heretofore unseen in his previous work.

But those expecting Luck in the Valley to take on the role of a closing chapter will likely be disappointed. After all, Rose seemed to have barely started his own narrative as a solo guitarist, and his dialogue with a world of bluesmen, dronesmiths, and the previous generations of guitarists that loved them could have continued for decades. If anything, though, the album’s clarity and tremendous focus go a ways toward sealing Rose’s reputation as the John Fahey for our generation — not necessarily in sound and style (although that’s obviously part of it), but in the important role he played in helping to renew and redefine an idiom for an audience that, like Rose, emerged from the grit of noise’s historically agnostic approach in search of a past with which to identify. In that sense, Jack Rose helped refine the map, connecting the Takoma stable to the present, all while strengthening the bridge to the blues and folk of the pre-war era.

I never knew Rose, but a lot of my friends did, and what became immediately apparent in the days following his death was that the world didn’t lose a great guitarist as much as it did an absolute force of humanity. It’s unfortunate that those who became fans of his music lost someone so blindingly creative and talented, but even more so that those whose lives he touched in a deeply personal way lost a friend. It’s undoubtedly a small consolation, but at least records like Luck in the Valley will endure for years to come, reminding us all of what Jack Rose was able to accomplish in an all-too-brief tenure on this hot and salty planet.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Jack Rose

Raag Manifestos

Kensington Blues

Dr. Ragtime and His Pals / Self-Titled

I Do Play Rock and Roll

Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Thrill Jockey

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