By Jeff Burger
You won’t hear a single misstep on We Still Go to Rodeos, the latest charmer from Whitney Rose, which was produced by Paul Kolderie (Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead, etc.).
The Canadian singer/songwriter, now based in Austin, Texas, generally gets pigeonholed as a country artist, but don’t be misled. Granted, her song structures, her twangy guitar, and even her album title evoke that genre; but like such artists as Rosanne Cash, she also often exudes a full-blown rock and roll sensibility.
Just listen to such tracks as “In a Rut,” “Believe Me, Angela,” “Better Man,” and “A Hundred Shades of Blue” (which sounds like a companion to the Bobby Fuller Four’s “A New Shade of Blue,” from 1965); on numbers like these, she seems less redolent of Nashville artists than of rock acts like the Bangles, not to mention the so-called “girl groups” of the 1960s. (In fact, she once covered “Be My Baby,” dueting with the Mavericks’ Raul Malo—another singer known for straddling boundaries—on the Ronettes’ classic.)
Rose’s passionate soprano and superb backup from a group of seasoned studio players will pull you into this album, which overflows with addictively hooked love songs. Her four earlier records (including one EP) are quite good; this one is irresistible.
Willie Nile, New York at Night. You’d never call Willie Nile prolific: he has released just 13 full-length studio albums over the course of his 40-plus-year career. However, he seems to have been on a bit of a tear of late, as eight of those CDs have arrived over just the past decade. The latest is New York at Night, his second tribute to the city he has called home for many years. (The first was Streets of New York, which came out in 2006.)
The program favors party-ready rockers, such as the anthemic “Lost and Lonely World” and “New York Is Rockin’,” which mentions numerous Big Apple locations as well as performers ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Ramones. But the album’s most memorable tracks include the ballads that allow for more of a spotlight on Nile’s literate lyrics and amiably idiosyncratic vocals. Some of the material is a bit thin musically, but there are enough high points to make me want to keep an eye out for whatever this artist does next.
Pharis and Jason Romero, Bet on Love. Canadian husband-and-wife duo Pharis and Jason Romero shine on this lilting and life-affirming fifth album, which has been billed as “a modern folk ode to the reciprocal relationships between place, people, and time.”
Recorded live in the couple’s home studio, the album’s 11 original tracks—a well-balanced mix of ballads and up-tempo numbers—profit from excellent solo and harmony vocal work. The all-acoustic instrumentation, which features guitar, banjo, bass, and mandolin, is first-rate as well. Bet on Love is a pleasure from first track to last, and a soothing antidote for the difficult times that the world is currently enduring.
America, Heritage II: Demos/Alternate Takes 1971–1976. This is the follow-up to 2017’s America’s Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970–1973. Though the dates in the titles suggest overlap, all but two tracks on the new set come from the 1974–76 work that resulted in the bestselling albums Holiday, Hearts, and Hideaway (all of which were overseen by Beatles producer George Martin). The CD, with liner notes by the group’s Gerry Beckley, includes a reading of Hideaway’s “Amber Cascades”; a largely instrumental version of Holiday’s “Tin Man,” a top-five hit; and 11 other numbers, among them such previously unreleased compositions as the nearly 13-minute instrumental called “Jameroony.”
There are no stunners and at least a few throwaways here—these are, after all, demos and alternate takes, and America wasn’t exactly a trailblazing outfit. Still, the album includes some surprisingly polished pop, a fair number of catchy tunes, and consistently strong three-part harmony vocals.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.