Performing is a musician’s most reliable path to the mastery of technique and ideas. The late Jack Rose constructed his solo guitar repertoire through years of persistent touring to become one of the commanding players of our generation. His 2005 album, Kensington Blues, presented eight selections that would serve as prototypes for his subsequent work, and a guitar vocabulary that was both deep-rooted and deliberately limited. Jack did not dabble, at least in public (he once told me that he played “Blackwaterside” now and then for a kick or as a warm-up). Instead, he continually explored variations of his core ideas. On his ultimate album, Luck In The Valley, he works primarily in ensemble with a cast that includes Glenn Jones, The Black Twig Pickers, Harmonica Dan and Hans Chew.
Jack’s work on the Weissenborn is the part of his repertoire I enjoy most. He used lap slide conventionally, for blues solos, but would also turn to it for modal, rāga-like excursions like “Now That I’m A Man Full Grown II” (from Kensington Blues) and “Song For The Owl” (from the limited edition 2009 LP, The Black Dirt Sessions). Luck In The Valley opens with a selection in this mold, entitled “Blues For Percy Danforth.” Jack’s slide on the take is charged and immediate, while an accompaniment of jaw harp and harmonica cleverly approximates sitar overtones. Within the context of the current guitar underground, where there is no shortage of Hindustani exotica, this cut strikes me as a revelation:
As “Danforth” fades, the album turns on a dime into “Lick Mountain Ramble,” the first of several rowdy ensemble pieces described in the press notes as “three-track shack recordings.” These tunes are elemental, joyful and beautifully presented. Jack’s “boom-chick” is the pervasive force, but is never artificially favored in the mixes, which are appropriately roomy and not over-engineered. My favorite is “When Tailgate Drops, The Bullshit Stops” (of course, though, I’m a sucker for the title)
“Tree In The Valley,” from the latter half of the album, is the second rāga-style work and one of only two solos, played in the manner of Robbie Bãsho’s “A North American Raga (The Plumstar)” (from 1971’s Song Of The Stallion LP) and Jack’s own “Cross the North Fork” (originally from Kensington Blues, with alternate takes on Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Volume 2 compilation of 2006 and also The Black Dirt Sessions). What I think Rose brings to this type of guitar playing that most others have not is an unwavering sense of resolve: there is never a moment’s hesitation, never a loss of direction. He also brings near-flawless execution, and so absent are the missed and bum notes that could jar the listener from reverie.
While Kensington Blues will likely endure as Jack’s signature work, Luck In The Valley, his best since, is a worthy, multifaceted companion.