Wonderful third album from New Orleans folk/country star in the making
Esther Rose, a Michigan native who has for some years been based in New Orleans, has been slowly raising her profile with two particularly good albums. ‘This Time Last Night’ (2017) and ‘You Made It This Far’ (2019) revealed a talent for catchy songs set to an appealing folk/country accompaniment. Her third album retains much of that signature sound whilst adding a dash of pop and a pinch of New Orleans. The quality of the songwriting has also been ratcheted up a notch. The result is a beguiling collection of songs that captivate and enchant throughout the entirety of the album.
It would be easy, but perhaps lazy, to simply label ‘How Many Times’ as a ‘break-up’ record. There is much more to it than that. Sure, there are songs in there, which like the title track, refer to her failed marriage to Luke Winslow-King. Rose writes about her life experiences and the end of a marriage is a biggie that can’t be ignored. However, moving to a new house and life on the road also provide inspiration. Other experiences drawn upon include ‘Good Times’ which was written following her car’s engine blowing up miles from home in Nashville and ‘Are You Out There?’ stems from Rose losing her nerve and fleeing a New Year’s Eve date half an hour before midnight.
The common thread throughout the album is that each of the songs reflect personal feelings and how Rose deals with them, rather than seeking to apportion blame to anyone for anything. Yet while the lyrics sometimes reveal hurt and heartache, Rose’s chirpy voice and the simple pop inspired sound behind her, are in sharp contrast. Setting sadness and sorrow to a catchy tune is classic country yet Rose manages to imbue this old template with a freshness and a modernity that set it apart from mere revivalists. Rose simultaneously creates, challenges and expands traditional country music, through the power of her songs and the sound that she chooses to showcase them through.
Having become a resident of New Orleans, Esther Rose has become part of the thriving folk/country scene in that city. Amongst the musicians backing Rose on the album are upright bass player Dan Cutler (Hurray For The Riff Raff) and Cameron Snyder (The Deslondes) on drums. In addition to this perfectly cadenced rhythm section, Rose’s own acoustic guitar, the consummate lap-steel of Matt Bell and the exquisite fiddle playing of Lyle Werner, blend perfectly to provide an immaculate surface on which Rose’s blithesome voice gracefully dances.
Recorded live to tape ‘How Many Times’ achieves that difficult balance between immediacy and substance. It is a tremendous record, one of my favourites of 2021 so far. For those that like musical reference points think Caitlin Rose and earlier Jenny Lewis, then listen for yourself because above all else, it’s peak Esther Rose. A peak that on this evidence, could well only be a starting point.