A very impressive set of songs which reach deep into the heart of rural American music.
Anyone who enjoys delving into, as Greil Marcus called it, old weird America, would be well advised to have a listen to this five song EP from Johanna Rose which is rooted in the dirt and air which swirls around the foundations of what we call Americana. The songs sound as old as the hills with resonator guitar and plaintive pedal steel adding to the patina yet they come across as fresh as a daisy.
Previously one half of the duo Nickel & Rose and also in demand as a string bass player for several other combos, Rose was, like so many others, left high and dry by the pandemic and retreated to Vermont, eventually living in a tree house due to a lack of affordable housing. While this might not be ideal, the bucolic image it suggests perfectly suits the songs here.
With Rose on resonator guitar and upright they’re accompanied by piano, fiddle, pedal steel, guitars and occasional percussion, the ensemble nimble and sparse. There’s a couple of medium paced numbers. ‘Use It Up’ is a good old fashioned bar room country stomp and ‘Hard Liquor For Hard Times’ hides its lyrical sadness behind a very attractive vocal and lively band performance. However, when Rose reins it in, as on the mixture of Alela Diane and Gillian Welch on ‘What If I Told You’ and on the gospel tones of ‘Dive In A Lake’, they truly impress. Best of all is the impassioned and very impressive ‘Carhartt Angel’ which has a frontier feel under its wings as Rose sings a love song to a lineman (presumably not that one from Wichita) with the band, in particular the fiddle and pedal steel, gently propelling the song with ghostly sensations and drawing a picture almost as vivid as that conjured by Jimmy Webb.