PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Jack Rose: Luck in the Valley

Luck in the Valley is not a heartbreaking farewell. Instead, it's a joyful burst of life, and proof that Jack Rose will be with us as a musical force for some time to come.

Jack Rose

Luck in the Valley

US Release: 2010-02-23
Label: Thrill Jockey
UK Release: Import
Label Website

One of the small but wonderful ironies that has grown out of the increasingly digital age of sound -- as the internet has both widened our awareness of music and watered it down -- is that it has made way for a number of virtuoso acoustic performers to gain a wider audience. It doesn't hurt either that indie superstars like M. Ward and Thurston Moore have helped revitalize the legacy of John Fahey, and consequently the careers of his followers, merely by mentioning his name.

But while this crop of players seems endlessly gifted, led by the likes of Ben Chasny and James Blackshaw, none can outshine Jack Rose. Jack Rose is acoustic music, and since he split from the great experimental noise band Pelt, Rose's solo output has been stunning. What separates him from the others is his ability to reach out with his music. Chasny and Blackshaw are brilliant, to be sure. Chasny, though, has slowly but surely moved towards an obscuring fog of distortion, while Blackshaw whips piano and guitar up into a dust storm he never emerges from.

Jack Rose, on the other hand, wanted you to join in. His stuff -- especially Kensington Blues and Opium Musick -- can knock you on your ass with its sheer musicianship, but it never sounds like an exercise, like some bookish composition. Without ever singing a word, Jack Rose could communicate in a way few musicians can.

So when he passed away last December, suddenly and all too young at 38, it wasn't just bad news -- it was a gut shot. How could this man, so vital and energized on record, be gone so soon? And what were lovers of acoustic music to do without him around to remind us how human it could sound? The answer to that is, in a lot of ways, still unclear. They are questions that can be put off, because before he passed on, Rose completed what will sadly be his last album, Luck in the Valley.

But let's do this: Let's decide to let the album exist on its own. Let's not call this the last word, or hang Rose's passing over this music like a thick cloud bank. Luck in the Valley is not a heartbreaking farewell. It's not even a bittersweet goodbye. This album is a joyful burst of life, his most complete and encompassing invitation to us to come on in, to be a part of this pulsing music until it takes us over. Finally it is proof that Jack Rose, as a musical force, will be with us for a long time to come.

Along with a handful of players -- including his former Pelt-mate Mike Gangloff and brilliant guitar and banjo work from guys like Glenn Jones and Isaak Howell -- Rose uses Luck in the Valley to continue to explore the pre-war folk that's influenced recent albums like Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers. Like those albums, this disc contains only live takes with no overdubs whatsoever, and each song has a brilliant clarity as a result, a space somehow between the music and the record that makes room for us to interact with the songs.

It puts you right in the tack-piano thick of "When Tailgate Drops, the Bullshit Stops", and don't be surprised when your foot involuntarily thumps along with the infectious porch stomp. The hollow banjo jangle of Rose's version of "West Coast Blues" feels like it's coming at you from all sides. Even at the disc's most down low, on the group's shuffling take on W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", the music doesn't turn in on itself. Rose's pure joy in creating these sounds, in mining the past for some new nugget of music, comes across in every note.

Rose does strike out on his own some here, particularly on the extended solo track "Tree in the Valley", and the cascading notes that run effortlessly off his guitar can put you into a trance. It does drift away from the tight melodies and thrumming stomp of other tracks, but it's still very much alive. Jack Rose's greatest asset as a musician was avoiding any cold, academic feel in his work. Though Rose himself studied music endlessly and incorporated much of what he learned into his own stuff, his music wasn't an exercise in scholarship. Nevermind learning what this music is about -- just dig in and feel it. The knowledge can come later.

Luck in the Valley, along with Kensington Blues, is the best example of Rose's considerable talents. This stuff courses with life, and reveals hidden gems of sound with each listen. While the reality that Jack Rose is gone is, surely, a very real sadness, there's nothing sad about this music. This is an album that should be admired for years to come not as a final document, but as a brilliant and unflinchingly joyful piece of music. And I can't think of a better way to honor Jack Rose than to treat it as such.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.