Tony Rose “Medicine Tunes” (Cannery Row Records 2018)

Tony Rose is from Glasgow and this is his first solo record. He has previously recorded as a member of Two Dollar Bash and has a career extending beyond Scotland, playing across Europe, jamming and swapping songs from Prague to Berlin and Amsterdam and all across Canada and the USA, promoting this important bluegrass related brand of music. What a force! And a what a joy to discover his style, and his ability, apparently, to overcome and record life as it really is.

All the songs on ‘Medicine Tunes’ have been written by Tony. Here, he is supported by Geir Voie from Norway, on mandolin, Sean Condron from New York on banjo and a variety of instruments, Mark Mulholland, Tony’s long term friend from Glasgow, the producer of the whole thing and also playing a variety of instruments, and finally, from France, Stéphane Doucerain on drums and percussion, who has worked with Tony as a member of the band, Impure Thoughts. It is important to carefully note all these players, because they have all contributed here to a true Americana work of art.

Start then with ‘Last Days Of Summer,’ for here is explained the reason for the album’s title. Sean’s banjo introduces the song, and Tony’s words come in easily: “Wash my boots in the last days of summer.” Trouble is,“There’s nobody left here to listen.” So, drawing on his own experience of a difficult time in his life, and finding a way through, he is able to say: “Adios disappointment and sorrow.” And, at this point comes the first bridge with its captivating, mournful mandolin and the lilting banjo. A loping,  consoling and moving moment. Then, thanks to “a bright ray of sun” he can say, “Hello to the future,” where, because of his music and his songwriting, he can, “Sail away on a river,/ Protected by Medicine Tunes!

So it is that this record works. After the second bridge with mandolin, banjo and dobro, Tony sings, “Wash my blues in the sunlight “and we are left with that superb banjo lick, repeating, reminding the listener of the message and the promise. Here is music that really holds you.

And so it is with the whole album. In the first track,’When I walk, will you follow?’ Tony’s positivity bowls  you over: Despite the darkest of nights, despite being loved, being laughed at, being blinded by love, being stabbed in the back, being butchered, being stabbed, “I’ve been struck down by lightning, away in the flood,/ Rejected and cast out by own flesh and blood.” All this is accompanied by and reinforced by that first bridge. Thus he makes a plea: “Will you hold my hand tightly as these highways are roamed /  In my heart, here for ever,  there‘s a place that you own.” But this is not only a plea. It is the feeling of resolution that holds the record together. “No more will I listen to those /Who think power be used to destroy the most delicate flower.” For the rest of the album you will be able to appreciate Tony’s skill in lyric writing, and also to acknowledge that his voice, questioning, accepting, is tonally perfect for the job.

With reference to ‘Roll High and Roll Good’: the second CD consists of other artists singing Tony’s songs. There is as much here as there is in “Medicine Tunes.” Discovering these artists, and listening to Tony’s lyrics again, is a salutatory experience of discovery. Mark Mullholland in the CD notes, writes, with respect to tribute collections to songwriters, that ‘Roll High and Roll Good’ ought to start off the convention of a series of albums by talented (living) songwriters which will be accompanied by a collection of covers of their songs. Great idea!  

Anyone with an experience of this type of music, listening or playing, must purchase this album, and be prepared, not only to take care in listening, discussing, and ultimately loving the music, but to follow through their discoveries. You will be bowled over by ‘Old Woman,’ The Mayhaws from Tallahassee singing Tony’s ‘Old Man.’ Or The Lazy Pigs in Prague rendering ‘One day I’ll be Gone.’ Try, for instance, Dalton Stansbury singing ‘100 Miles Away in Prague’. Every track here is memorable!

You must know of Tony Rose. If you don’t, and you want thoughtful, skillful bluegrass, get hold of this collection.

9/10

Summary

If you want thoughtful, skillful bluegrass, get hold of this collection

Author: Dave Clarke

I have always loved Americana music, even before it had a name. I've been a teacher (secondary and tertiary) all my professional life.

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