by Craig Howieson
Evoking the finest moments of cherished genres, New Orleans’ Esther Rose proves again why she is such a mesmerising new voice
There is a special power held within stories, and in those with the ability to tell them. It is why songwriters and authors are held in such high regard. They provide us with worlds within words – places to retreat to – as the downpour of life lashes against the windows.
There is also a unique warmth that comes from the familiarity of hearing the same story again and again. We put up with the relative who’s had one too many, and is spinning their favourite yarn for the hundredth time because it is a comfort to us. We know how it ends, but we await the punchline with the same anticipation all the same. The beauty is found in the sharing.
How Many Times, the new record from Esther Rose, is blessed with a similar familiarity. However, while the themes and musical backdrop may not be new, these stories are hers alone – and the way in which she wields them into her own form is masterful. She has not merely dipped a toe in the rich ocean of country music, but waded out until she is neck deep before the waves carry her back to shore.
My Bad Mood and When You Go display such a profound knowledge of her subject matter that they could be deep cuts from a Sun Records’ compilation. As guitars twang and ricochet, Rose’s soul-soaked voice soars like a crest of gulls before swooping so low you’ll be ducking for cover. Elsewhere, the album’s opening and closing statements (How Many Times and Without You) display a far folkier influence as Lyle Werner’s fiddle, a constant anchor to the record’s formative influences, provides an intimate warmth that makes you want to snatch these songs from the stage and retreat to a cosy neuk where they can be yours alone.
There is plenty of grit in the glitter of Rose’s railroad tales that ensures she never strays into the saccharine or cliche. As she wryly observes her own shortcomings, as well as those around her, she retains enough levity to let you know she’ll fight to laugh another day. Songs Remain is a beautifully strummed ballad of heartbreak and acceptance, and shares a similar melodic sensibility that made Taylor Swift’s return to her folk beginnings last year such a success. As it reaches its heart-wrenchingly diminutive close, you can’t help but wonder if she herself is the ‘Wild rose in the pouring down rain.’
On How Many Times, Rose lifts the lid on her own life lessons to cast light on paths we must all tread. In matters of the heart, few will be left completely unscathed, but through Rose’s songs, she proves that the bandages unwrap and flutter away in the wind over time. Leaving little but the faintest trace of a lesson, we are lucky to have learned.
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