Whitney Rose Pushes the Boundaries of Classic Country on ‘We Still Go to Rodeos’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Two and half years ago the review of Whitney Rose’s 2017 Rule 62 was one of this writer’s first for these pages. The Canadian-born Rose now returns, having been happily ensconced in Austin since 2015. Talent attracts a great backing cast which the classic country singer has always had from the outset. On her previous album, recorded in Nashville, she had some of the city’s best in Raul Malo, Jen Gunderman, Kenny Vaughan, and Chris Scruggs to name a few. Malo got her started. This time out, We Still Go to Rodeos, is the first on her own label, MCG. With producer Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Pixies, Morphine) she rounded up impressive backing again, tapping Austin’s best. Joining her are guitarist Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard), drummer Lisa Pankratz (Dave Alvin, Billy Joe Shaver), bassist Brad Ford (Dave Alvin, Jerry Jeff Walker), guitarists Dave Leroy Biller (Texas Playboys, Deke Dickerson), versatile keyboardist Matt Hubbard (Willie Nelson) and Rich Brotherton (Robert Earl Keen), along with a few others. They are a testament to her talent.

Rose wrote all dozen tunes herself, retaining her classic country roots but broadening the sound to be more contemporary (loud and rocking at times) and Americana-centric, a mark of her confidence and independence. She comments, “I draw from a lot of different influences, but I’d like to think there’s a certain uniqueness in my work. I don’t want to make the same album over and over again and this one is no different. I’m not changing styles or redirecting my career as much as I’m expanding on avenues that I’ve explored previously. Maybe it’s because I heard Marty Stuart call Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker the best country band of all time and I got excited. In any case, this record has some distinct difference in production style and instrumental focus from previous works and I’m proud of the outcome.”

The drive is there from the outset with “Just Circumstance,” about a girl trapped on the wrong side of the tracks – (“The all say ‘bless her heart/she never had a chance”). “Home With You” hits some seductive chords, perfect for these times and “You’d Blame Me for the Rain” also carries a sultry timbre. On the other hand, “In a Rut” and “I’d Rather Be Alone” rock hard and loud with an arsenal of guitars behind her. We can likely assume that Dave Leroy Biller has most of the solos as he’s the first listed in the credits. Brotherton plays mostly acoustic and the other guitarists, including Morlix usually appear lower. Morlix, though, probably has some solos too.

” Fell Through the Cracks” is a beautiful classic country ballad infused with confessional sorrow, one where the full range of her extraordinary voice comes through exceptionally well. “A Hundred Shades of Blue” displays a wider emotional palette but stays nicely in that same classic country territory, buoyed by some nice nylon string guitar work from Brotherton and rich electric soloing from Biller. “Don’t Give Up on Me’ carries a sentimental touch while “Better Man” cranks it up again with Heartbreakers-like jangling guitars (seems she was very impacted by that Marty Stuart comment). “Thanks for Trying” has her breaking through a dense backdrop before closing with the title track, one of the gentlest tunes on the disc, exuding romance, and nostalgia.

Rose is pushing the envelope a bit on this outing. Sometimes it seems as if she’s trying to break through a sound that was bigger than she bargained for but there are still those precious moments where her voice and phrasing may have you reminiscing of classic singers like Bobbie Gentry and Dusty Springfield. That’s mixed with a swagger, self-confidence, and a willingness to rock out. True to her word, she’s doing it her way.

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