by Ian Mann
January 23, 2020
The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate, and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.
“The Shining Pathway”
Welsh born, Shropshire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.
Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti. Review here;
The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf. She continues to work in a duo with the O’Farrells’ vocalist and guitarist Mari Randle.
Rose’s love of poetry and song transcends musical boundaries and her material covers many bases including folk, jazz, pop and classical. She writes high quality original songs and her choice of outside material is often quite inspired. Rose knows a good song when she hears one.
She is a consistently excellent live performer and I have witnessed many of her local appearances over the years.. No two shows have been exactly alike and I have seen her sing and play with a variety of accompanists. Her work has attracted the attention of many celebrity admirers including American folk doyenne Judy Collins, New York based singer/songwriter Kenny White and Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant who contributed backing vocals to the “Wilde Wood” album. She is also a great organiser and facilitator as well as being a significant musical talent.
Rose’s new full length album “The Shining Pathway” is largely comprised of new self penned songs, plus the occasional cover and collaboration. It was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee and in her current home town of Ludlow, Shropshire. The songs were inspired by travel, literature, personal experience and her Christian faith. A musician with a social conscience Rose has championed women’s issues, worked on teaching and songwriting projects with prisoners, children and dementia patients, and travelled to Africa to work for the charity Planting for Hope in Uganda. She has also performed fund-raising gigs for the charity in the UK.
“The Shining Pathway” finds Rose collaborating closely with the producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Walsh, best known for his work with the electronic music duo Plaid (Andy Turner and Ed Handley). Walsh worked with Rose in both Nashville and Ludlow and performs the majority of the instrumental parts on the album.
Album opener “Wrestling with Angels”, also due to be released as a single, sets the tone, melancholic yet somehow uplifting with Rose’s pure, fragile, well enunciated vocals sympathetically framed by Walsh’s instrumental arrangement, with his violin particularly prominent. The poetic and evocative lyrics were inspired by a visit to Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, at a time when the Queen was in residence.
Jointly written with Walsh “Grace Go I” is a song about counting your blessings and was partly inspired by Rose’s work in UK and US prisons. It also references a long journey on a Greyhound bus and some of the characters she met along the way. A poetic and evocative lyric expresses empathy for the marginalised of society, whilst simultaneously giving thanks for her own good fortune and Christian faith. Rose’s soft, wistful vocal is complemented by a typically sympathetic Walsh arrangement that makes effective use of finger picked guitar.
It probably won’t come as any great surprise to learn that one of Rose’s primary influences is the inspirational Joni Mitchell. “Basket of Roses” was written after a visit to the cave at Matala on the island of Crete, where Mitchell wrote most of the material the material for her seminal “Blue” album. Rose describes the song as “an ode to the goddess within” and makes allusions to Mitchell’s work in her lyrics, name checking Matala, the Mermaid Café and “Blue”. The second half of the song seems to make reference to her Ugandan experiences. Walsh’s arrangement is centred around acoustic guitar, but includes a judicious splash of bouzouki to add a little authentic Greek flavouring.
The more upbeat “Willow of the Canyon” continues the Joni theme. Written in Laurel Canyon its lyrics namecheck Mitchell, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills in an arrangement that recalls the sounds of Californian “soft rock”. It’s the only song to feature drums, while Rose’s voice is overdubbed to create ‘Fleetwood Mac’ style vocal harmonies. Very much inspired by its location the song was written while Rose was staying in California prior to performing for the Democratic politician Marianne Williamson, another immensely influential figure for Rose.
Co-written with Walsh “Bluebeard” has the feel of an ancient folk ballad about it. Indeed it’s based on a French folk tale about a nobleman turned serial killer, a myth that has since formed the basis for modern novels such as Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”. Rose re-writes the ending to allow her heroine to escape, which I didn’t find entirely convincing. Also her vocals are too sweet to reflect the grisly horrors of the lyrics. For all that “Bluebeard” is a good enough song, I’d love to hear Nick Cave tackling it.
The only true cover of the set is “Butterfly”, written by the Canadian songwriter Melodie Mitchell, who travelled to Nashville to play piano on the recording. Mitchell’s song is simple but evocative and the arrangement, is suitably intimate, primarily featuring voice and acoustic piano, plus a few subtle violin embellishments courtesy of Rebecca Weiner Tompkins. The performance also includes harmony vocals, presumably Rose overdubbed.
Perhaps the strangest song on the album is “Nigel”, written about a gannet that apparently fell in love with a concrete decoy during some kind of bizarre scientific experiment. Rose chanced upon this true story in a copy of the Washington Post and her song about “the world’s loneliest bird” features a suitably quirky arrangement featuring picked guitars and mandolins. The song’s message is an allegory about the power of love, even the unrequited kind.
The intimate “Glow of a Thousand Candles” offers a different view of the transforming power of love through its softly insistent instrumental arrangement and Rose’s fragile but expressive vocals.
Rose’s love of poetry and literature is reflected in her setting of A.E. Housman’s poem “The Recruit”, written in 1896 but somehow strangely prescient of of the First World War. Rose’s sensitive rendition of Housman’s words is matched by a suitably empathic arrangement. The poem has a particular significance for Rose thanks to its frequent references to the town of Ludlow and its surroundings. It also represents a link to the earlier “Song Be My soul” album.
The album concludes with the ballad “Shallow Waters”, co-written by Rose and the American singer-songwriter Christina Nichols, who also provides piano and backing vocals. The song was only completed on the day before recording, so the arrangement is suitably sparse and simple, just voices and piano. Nevertheless there’s an anthemic quality about the piece, with the voices of the co-writers combining effectively. An excellent potential single, and possibly a surprise hit.
Apparently Rose met Nichols at a song-writing workshop organised by the New Orleans born singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, a major figure on the American music scene and a hugely significant influence on Rose and her songwriting.
“The Shining Pathway” represents an excellent addition to Deborah Rose’s catalogue. The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Rose’s vocals exhibit her customary purity and clarity and in Walsh she has found an empathic and highly capable collaborator. Guests Mitchell and Nichols also impress with their contributions as both songwriters and musicians.
I’ve always had a lot of time for Deborah Rose and her music, even though it isn’t strictly ‘jazz’. This is an album that is more likely to appeal to the folk community and I have no hesitation in recommending it on those terms.
Rose’s songs on this album are increasingly personal, as, inspired by Gauthier, she reaches deeper inside herself than ever before. Again I’m aware that some listeners may regard her music as being rather ‘twee’, but these intimate performances are possessed of genuine emotional depth, and both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.blog comments powered by Disqus