Whitney Rose: Heartbreak of the Year

Rose's new album is technically beautiful, historically minded, smartly constructed, and slightly dull.

Whitney Rose

Heartbreaker of the Year

Label: Cameron House
Release Date: 2015-08-21

Thinking about Whitney Rose’s new album, is a pretty good road map of what the country culture is doing these days. I was talking to a musician friend about the state of country music. I spend a lot more time talking about the nature of the industry than the actual music these days-; he noted this, and he also noted that a lot of country writing was about sociology. Less and less is about the actual call to music itself. But if we spend so much time talking about the music, we might slide into the mire of authenticity conversations.

Speaking of the mire of authenticity conversations, I have another friend who just came back from LA, and he saw a band there that we both like. I asked him how the show was. and he talked about the pleasures of a small room, but also that the show was tasteful. That is a useful critical word, maybe more useful than inert. Maybe tasteful isn’t bad, there are things that are tasteful that are beautiful or refined or well worth keeping around. The priority of messiness means that things that are cleaner often get thrown out.

That’s a lot of "meta" writing around a text instead of writing about a text, and it’s the kind of thing that critics should be more careful about. However, I have heard this album for a while now, and I have heard it more than a few times. I like the producer, Raul Malo, who is working as part of the Mavericks, which are fun and refined. He knows how to hire the right people too -- the Mexican horns in a Mavericks show are so tight, they are brassy in all the best ways. The band swings, but they don’t improvise. It’s a good time had by all, and they play against an audience, but you can only swing that hard: reproduce the studio live, by just being really fucking good at your instruments.

Like those horns in the Mavericks, which sound like "Ring of Fire", or sound like West Texas Bohemian polkas and waltzes -- hinting at the overlap that gave birth to a variety of regional musics. Rose doesn’t do much hinting. I keep trying to figure out how to listen to this record, and I keep coming up against wanting to write against it, or through it. I find it tasteful and inert.

Malo heard something when Rose opened for him, and hearing him on the first track, you know what he heard. She has a voice well suited for the middle space between Jazz and Country: she swings, like how Walking After Midnight might as well be a Dinah Washington torch song. She also knows her history. Part of knowing the history, is the ability to integrate and reconstruct, to renew the tradition. Rockabilly, with it’s obsession with nostalgia, is closer to jazz, in how it has standards that renew through covering. But rockabilly can sometimes seem ossified, that the musical work does not shift or change, and it becomes a kind of liturgical performance.

When Rose sings "Be My Baby", she has every note right. McFadden’s organ rolls, and the drum provides a perfect heartbeat. She sounds fairly close to Ronnie Spector, in ways that suggest listening more than a direct Xeroxing. Her cover of the Hank Williams standard "Tear in my Beer" is genuinely beautiful, and very sad. But it lacks the ironic self loathing of the original. Ronnie Spector needs the performative bucking against Phil’s iron thumb, and Hank Williams needs to laugh at himself, I’m not sure Rose has either.

But, maybe I am being a little churlish. I am interested in her choices, and in how she sings. Her writing is first rate, and she is really fucking good at her instrument. She doesn’t embarrass herself next to the covers she chose, and her writing is as good as other Canadians doing similar historically minded work on the edge of what country could be. This album is not that different than Corb Lund or Lindi Ortega. There is no reason why I should want this over as soon as it begins, or why listening to it becomes either a chore, or washes over you. However, it does.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castle, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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