Anytime Neil Rosengarden releases new music into the world is a time to rejoice. He is a musician of true multitudes; like the late great Prince, Neil can play just about any instrument, and always with deep soul and precision. And like Prince, his musical output is staggering, in terms of abundance, depth, range and soul. Unlike Prince, but fortunately for us, he’s still alive and making music. Four Songs, like all his previous releases, is beautifully musical. He’s the son of legendary percussionist Bobby Rosengarden, and has been playing music in the major leagues himself since he was a kid, so it’s in his blood. His music is sophisticated and simple both, complex and visceral, and always utterly compelling. And liks his others, this is the kind of record that just gets better with every listening; so rich and beautifully crafted are the compositions, and the arrangements and performances, that with each new listening, more of its abundant charms are revealed. This is greatness.
Fluent, evidently, in every musical means of expression, the man has been overflowing with song for decades now, resulting in a remarkable fourteen releases. And these are phenomenally rich, funky and expansive records. From early cult classics like 1990’s The Plaid Album through the brilliant Upsidedown Furniture (2006) through the beloved Ohio (2013) and beyond, it’s been clear that this guy can soar in every style under the sun with singular soul and joy. And the music keeps coming. Like Prince, again, he makes so much music, much of which is complex and dimensional, that it becomes almost impossible to take it all in.
Almost, but not entirely, impossible. This time he’s made it a little easier on his fans by releasing a four-song EP. But although there are less songs than previous albums, it is every bit as great, if not greater, than those which preceded it. It’s a collaboration with the visionary-poet-songwriter Stephen Kalinich, who has written songs with The Beach Boys, PF Sloan and others, which, like these modern times and especially this, the Summer of ’17, is composed of much darkness, but not without the light of hope.
It all starts with a great summer party anthem, “Holiday On The Roof,” which resounds like a classically boisterous and Beatlesque celebratory rock and roll rave-up. It’s the kind of song – and record- ideal for blasting out our window on a hot day so as to invite dancing in the streets. Rosengarden, whose greatness on both bass and drums means he’s his own solidly soulful rhythm section on these cuts, is also a powerful and lyrical trumpet player, and his horn chops add funky force to this and other tracks.
“Here Goes Something” is a romantic and hypnotically funky Motown-meets-Steely Dan ode to love and its carnal pleasures. From its greatly infectious R&B electric rhythm guitar figures through the soulful ascending melodics, this is pure and delightful. “I Think I’m Falling In Love Again” is an exultant and catchy folk rock celebration of keeping romantic hope alive enlivened by rich acoustic guitar textures and great harmony vocals.
It ends with the elegiac “Bitter Pill to Swallow,” which resounds like a classic Neil Young song of infinite yearning, with some shades of Kurt Cobain’s inescapable sorrow. Yet even with this timeless melody, it’s a song very much about now, as the songwriter declares that existence is not saved by a new cell phone or any other promise of modernity, not when one is contemplating dying alone. As with so much of his work over these years, Rosengarden directly delivers this yearning with no apology, reminding us that even with all the miracles and wonders of these modern times, that without love there is no light.
The creative intersection of Kalinich and Rosengarden – two brilliant creators who have consistently transcended conventional ideas to embrace that which is hopeful and timeless – is a fertile and heartening one, and hopefully will persist into the future with more records and songs at this level. Stevie Kalinich, as those in the know already know, is beloved as a true poet in an age of so little poetry, yet one who loves rock and roll, and visits our world often to bring words of great grace and hope.
As our lives get more dizzying with madness, mayhem, misinformation and misery, this kind of music is needed more than ever, to help make sense of it all, and also to nourish our hearts and our minds as we struggle simply to persist.