Esther Rose “Safe To Run”

New West Records, 2023

Superior songwriting and deep recollections on Esther Rose’s fourth album.

Safe To Run‘ sees Esther Rose coming fully into her own singer-songwriter voice – earlier albums have moved from a very traditional country base through to more personally inspired songs and that musical process comes to full fruition here.  A lot of the inspiration came from Esther Rose’s younger self who she self describes as wilfully reckless – one song comes from a memory of her twenty-three-year-old self “enjoying” a “weird weekend with a crew of dangerous college preps, a car crash.”  To accompany these new songs there’s also a full dive into a new kind of Cosmic American Music – a sound that can stand alongside the likes of Kassi Valazza or Erin Rae but definitely distinct from both of these as Esther Rose brings in a rock and roll sensibility derived from the Velvet Underground and certain strands of Lou Reed but all filtered through a double optic array of a folk-tinged and a country-tinged lens.  It’s a useful instrument, looking one way it brings tiny events into clear focus and spun around it opens up a vision of a huge and spacey sky. It sounds intimate and it sounds huge at the same time.

The title track is an acoustic dream of a song, with Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff) adding additional vocals and Johnny ‘Up’ Shadid’s weeping pedal steel – which is contrasted with Nick Cohon’s burning guitar solo.  It’s a song of hope and doubt, of going out into the world with good wishes and wondering if that’s going to be enough to carry you through; it’s a fast car going somewhere and a realisation that “there’s nowhere safe to run” anyway; it’s the recognition of what people do with their lives and wondering if that’s what you want for yourself.  So many layers, and this is just one song.

Chet Baker‘ is the song alluded to before –  the tale of youthful wildfulness and the near miss of a car crash.  It’s strut and strum, and oozes sass – here’s where Esther Rose outdoes the VU as she relates “You push the gas showing off / my seat belt clicks / Chet Baker on the deck when the pills kick in” and observes “you’re pretty good, you wanted to crash, pretty good, you needed to crash, twenty- three, uh-huh,” before muttering a prayer for rescue “save me.”  Excess and a don’t care attitude and the youthful disbelief of danger given a mellotron strangeness.

New Magic II‘ is a nostalgic memory of a special place and a person associated with that time – most likely Rose’s younger self, as she digs into her recollections and wonders if she’s become someone that her twenty three year old self would – what?  Respect?  Like?  Laugh at?  ‘Insecure‘ lays out a series of  romantic anxieties – questioning whether a partner has a roving eye, and containing a devastating critique of the difference between lust and love that perhaps hints that things are not as stable as they could be: “I know you want me / Feel it when we kiss / And I know you love me / ‘cos you buy me shit.”  The gorgeous acoustic ballad ‘Arm’s Length‘ is a Chuck Prophet song in disguise – the same kind of detached observations and wry looks at the world “Come on Jesus don’t you die for me  / You take yourself so seriously /  You’re a shepherd, so count sheep/ maybe love isn’t enough…for some of us” tied to a downbeat resolution on the meaning of existence “life is like a video game…level up…big score…game over.”

And there are another six songs on the album just as good and insightful as these – ‘Safe To Run‘ is a hell of a deep dive into a life that’s being left behind, and a pick through the emotional baggage that gets carried forward anyway.  Musically and lyrically matched to perfection it’s an album that’s a real repeat listener.

  

8/10
8/10

About Jonathan Aird 2774 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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