Jack Rose with D. Charles Speer & The Helix - "The Longer You Wait" (Ragged and Right)
Link Wray’s version of “In the Pines,” recorded at home with minimal studio trickery for the landmark Three Track Shack sessions, is a gospel song drunk on moonshine. Its righteous choruses are shouted more than sung, in loose unison that threatens to fly apart at the seams. The song’s stately rhythms are revved until they start to smoke. Between the choruses, a slide guitar solo that pretty much sets the whole tune alight. “In the Pines,” like much of the Three Track Shack, sits right on the crack between rock and country, its raucous beat and unfettered guitar arguing for rock, its very traditional melody and structure making a case for country. It’s a rough-hewn triumph, and you can see how, on a long road trip between Midwestern cities, the song might turn into a kind of talisman for traditionally rooted guitar players with a tendency to raise the roof.
At least that’s what happened with Jack Rose, emerging master of twelve-string and slide, and Dave Shuford, the NNCK collaborator on the road with country-oriented D. Charles Speer, in 2008. Ragged and Right , a four-song document of their resulting collaboration, was recorded later that summer, with a full band (bass, drums, piano), plentiful liquor, and Shuford partner Jason Meager at the boards. It ends with a roughshod ramble through “In the Pines” that is nearly as gleeful and unhinged as Wray’s version. It and another Wray song (“The Prisoner”) book-end and EP that is is rawer, more electrified and more modern-day country than most of Jack Rose’s recordings.
The two principals play it straight, for the most part, with Shuford injecting a trad country sincerity into Merle Haggard song “The Longer You Wait” and mouthing the spoken-word outro to “The Prisoner” with Johnny Cash-like certainty. Yet within the boundaries of these straight-laced country songs, there’s plenty of room for impetuosity and spirit. The group shouts of “In the pines” have the rough-and-ready joy of the Wray version, and Rose’s slide work, tangled with roadhouse piano, cuts right through historical reference to the beating heart of the song itself. Even “Linden Avenue Hop” which Rose wrote with Glenn Jones, has a barroom belligerence to it. Its liquid layers of guitar luminosity are punched through with boot stomps, bumped up with bass, accentuated by giddy piano slides. There’s nothing archival about any of these songs. They sound like something you might hear, if you were lucky, from a whiskey-sticky juke box way out in the country.
There’s a tendency to canonize people who die way too young, as Rose did, to cast everything they do in a serious and purposeful light. Ragged and Right reminds everyone that Rose could take a drink and play loose and sloppy, too, and that it was a beautiful thing while it lasted. It’s a shame no one will ever hear these songs live again, or find out what would have happened if Rose and Shuford continued on this path, but four songs this loose-jointed and glorious are better than nothing at all.