Whitney Rose | We Still Go to Rodeos | (MCG)
4 out of 5 stars
In retrospect, it’s easy to hear what Mavericks’ frontman Raul Malo heard in the young Whitney Rose, even after her somewhat tenuous 2012 debut.
Eight years and two Malo produced follow-ups later, the Austin based (by way of Toronto) Rose returns for her fourth full length effort. It’s the first for her own label and the first since her initial offering without Malo at the helm (veteran Paul Kolderie is behind the board here). The changes are immediately apparent.
While Rose doesn’t entirely jettison the pure country influences that informed her previous work, they are now a bit further on the back burner. Instead she digs into a more powerful, singer/songwriter, folk/rock aesthetic on the majority of these dozen originals. Kolderie keeps her voice up front and the guitars, predominantly played by Dave Leroy Biller, churning out crunchy yet melodic riffs not far removed from those of Mike Campbell. Biller also contributes pedal steel, bringing a tough twang to the countrypolitan strains of the poppy “Home with You.”
She questions whether her romantic interest can open up on the rollicking “Better Man” (“‘Cause I don’t know if you want to/And I don’t know if you can/Be a better man”) and gets gritty in the pissed off “Thanks for Trying” singing “No I’m not broken by the things you did to me/But thanks for tryin’” as Biller overdubs forceful pedal steel lines over his power chords. Rose brings a Stonesy swagger to “In a Rut” as Biller and second guitarist Rich Brotherton crank out the rocking Keith Richards-styled lines with a hint of Mellencamp’s rugged reverberation. Four (!) guitarists are credited with contributing to the otherwise rather stripped down, darker shades of the acoustic ballad “A Hundred Shades of Blue” adding a rich fullness to Rose’s bittersweet vocals. She takes a strident tone exclaiming “These days are killing me slowly” in the raw “I’d Rather Be Alone,” (the words “than lonely” follow that title in the chorus.
There are echoes of the first Lone Justice album in the overall approach of We Still Go to Rodeos, especially with the emphasis on the twangy crackling Petty styled rock that Rose and her backing studio band deliver.
Everything about this set feels more confident, self-assured and assertive than even her impressive earlier releases. The combination of Rose’s alternately sweet and tangy vocals with her best collection of tunes yet makes this her finest overall album;one that should raise her visibility as one of the most talented rootsy singer/songwriters, of any gender, on the crowded Americana scene.