Jack Rose with D Charles Speer & the Helix “Ragged and Right” Thrill Jockey
In the spring of 2008, post-Takoma, American primitive guitarist Jack Rose set off on a tour with D Charles Speer and the Helix. Along the way, they listened to a lot of Three Track Shack era Link Wray – especially the songs “Scorpio Woman” and his version of “In the Pines.” Rose was so excited about the music, he decided to get some electricity in his life again, and invited Speer & the Helix to join him in the studio.
It’s interesting because, if you know all of the components (Rose, Speer, that era of Link Wray), you could probably imagine what it sounds like – which is not meant as a slight in any way. For Rose fans, it’s especially interesting to hear “Linden Avenue Stomp” filled out with a full band that includes, drums, steel guitar, and piano. It provides a big wall of sound that is very different than the original. Actually, there’s often so much going on in terms of instrumentation on this album that it takes quite a few listens to really appreciate. “Linden Avenue Stomp” is also a welcomed pick-up in tempo from the opener, a cover of Vernon Wray’s “Prison Song.” (Vernon Wray is Link’s brother.) Like it sounds, it’s a tale of wrong choices delivered in an especially doomy kind of country – thanks to the low voice of Speer and the slow tempo. It’s an intriguing song, that has a great build – starting with a lone piano, then adding guitar, followed by steel guitar, with the vocal and drum kicking in together.
There’s also a great cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Longer You Wait,” from Hag’s second long player. I can’t say enough about the instrumentation – and not just Jack Rose’s guitar. There’s also just a nice energy to the songs, which has to be in part due to the all live, no overdub approach of the recording process. It may also be in part to receiving some inspiration from a bottle of Buffalo Trace during the session – perhaps most obviously in the opening seconds of the final cut – “In the Pines,” a fun, rollicking take that is, not surprisingly, similar to Link Wray’s version.
Fans of any of the three main ingredients will no doubt find a lot to like here. Because Rose died last December, some may wonder if this is a worthy release or just some unreleased material that should’ve remained that way. It’s definitely worthy, and it’s a shame we’ll never hear what a full album could have sounded like.