Heartbreaker of the Year
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There aren’t many guarantees in music, but one thing you can pretty much bank on is if the Mavericks’ frontman Raul Malo is involved, it’ll be classy. While Canadian singer/songwriter Whitney Rose’s sophomore release, produced by Malo, doesn’t sound much like the Mavericks, it does share that band’s restless boundary pushing and frisky adventurousness.
The disc’s two covers provide a handy framework. Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” may not share many jukeboxes together but by joining classic country and retro pop, Rose has nailed a distinctive style that sounds pure and natural. The album’s best songs, like the opening “Little Piece of You,” combine those two influences with remarkable ease. It comes as no surprise that when Rose opened for the Mavericks, she and Malo often duetted on Nancy and Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid.”
The title track’s stripped down walking bass, finger snaps and reverbed guitar bring it close to “Fever” territory, a jazz/blues/C&W brew perfect for closing time at your local dive bar. There’s a robust countrypolitan vibe to much of this, that hits its peak on the string enhanced ballad “Ain’t it Wise,” with Malo on backing vocals, sounding like a hit from the mid-’60s. Rose sings in a sweet, strong, vulnerable voice that’s both powerful and subtle, a tricky balance she pulls off with a smooth and soulful edge.
Even with its obvious nods to the past, this is no musty retread. The songs are beautifully conceived, and Malo’s production captures their nuances with all the sophisticated warmth you would expect. Whether Rose is lamenting over “The Last Party” or rocking it up by explaining her transgressions in an evening were because “The Devil Borrowed My Boots,” this is terrifically crafted and brilliantly realized roots music guaranteed to provoke smiles. Rose/Malo have nailed this concoction of joining the purer sides of pop and country. The most exciting part is seeing where she goes next.