Esther Rose
Photo: Akasha Rabut / Courtesy of IVPR

Esther Rose Captures a Relationship’s Many Ups and Downs on ‘How Many Times’

Esther Rose’s How Many Times captures the joys and heartbreaks of being in a relationship and never quite knowing where one stands.

How Many Times
Esther Rose
26 March 2021

Esther Rose’s latest release, How Many Times, captures the joys and heartbreaks of being in a relationship and never quite knowing where one stands. Even being miserable has an upbeat edge as it implies one was once happy—or at least happier. Rose sings and plays with buoyant energy. Her melodies are simple and cheerful. The lilt in her voice suggests the silver lining in every cloud. The lyrics may express a mixed message, but god darn it, Rose isn’t going to let it get her down. Or maybe, more importantly, it’s not going to keep her down.

Consider the title track. The song gets its name from the chorus, which asks, “How many times will you break my heart?” four times in a row. The narrator complains about the pain of being alone, but she sounds in good spirits. Rose accompanies herself on acoustic guitar and keeps an even pace throughout the song. It doesn’t build to a climax as much as it seems resigned to the fact that it is “hard to make a good thing last”. There’s a jovial aspect to the proceedings abetted by Matt Bell on steel guitar and Lyle Werner on fiddle. They let the strings offer a country-style laughing accompaniment in contrast to the more morose verbal message. The song pokes fun at Rose’s self-pity even as she describes her anguish.

This mix of happy/sad thematically links the ten tracks together. Whether Rose longingly sings about “My Bad Mood” as a separate entity that gets her depressed or having a “Good Time” with a lover she knows will leave her, she mixes the moods. The instrumental backing is always bubbly, even when Rose sings with sad inflections to further complement the blending of emotions. Like Joni Mitchell used to croon, laughing and crying is the same release. That’s true on this album as Rose wears her heart on her sleeve.

“I am glad it was you who broke my heart,” Rose sings to her lover on “Songs Remain”. It’s unclear what she found so attractive in her mate, but it’s clear that she’s happy that the affair is over and can now enjoy the afterglow of memory and her freedom. Perhaps that’s the key to understanding Rose’s jumble of sentiments. She enjoys the passion and excitement of physical love and the feeling of being needed and wanted, but she also wants to be free from entanglements. Rose deals with these sensations simultaneously—in the same song—and on repeated tracks. Her ability to express this sophisticated attitude in seemingly simple language and melodies reveals Rose’s artistry.  

After all, we all have mixed feelings about our relationships with others. Even those in the throes of love have doubts about whether it will last. Rose addresses this fact with a bemused smile even as she acknowledges her tears. Her music infectiously reacts to her sensations. You can’t feel bad if you didn’t first feel good. That’s a positive worth celebrating. It gives one a reason to sing and dance. These ten songs reveal that she’s looking for a new love. No matter how many times it takes, Rose will keep on trying until she finds it. Until then, she will enjoy the search.

RATING 8 / 10