Perceived from a certain angle, the Americana genre can feel like a strange anomaly. The tapestry of lazy, wonky, plinky, plonky and graceful puffs/strains are familiar, welcoming and reassuring. At the same time though, for the unacquainted, it can feel like a closed door; distant and ostracising, like trying to enter a club for which you are not a member. The patrons don’t really want any non-fully subscribed person there.
It is with this in mind that we consider Mancunian Jo Rose and his debut album, Spurs. It is an album which bears the fruits of recording sessions in living rooms, halls and small studios across such diverse locations as his hometown, Nova Scotia and Kingussie.
The utilisation of the classical guitar, which, to some extent, was brought back into popular music’s consciousness with Jose Gonzales 2005 effort Veneer, brings an intimacy that attests to the living room ambience that bedecked the recording process. As the record unfurls, both guitar and occasional banjo pulsate with raggedy chords – strummed as they are with frequent hammer-ons – and plaintive vocals that sit the right side of pretty, yet also sincere, emotion. And this is important. Sometimes, in the pursuit of perfection, the character and the identifiably human traces are rubbed out. It is a pleasure to hear it in place. It gives the record a vitality that is essential to its success.
Additional instrumentation is politely and professionally applied, never looking to provide an obstruction to the core material. A gently strummed nylon strung guitar and bobbing vocal introduces ‘Balcony Doors’, the opening track, before matters build purposively with momentum, metering dynamics in a satisfying balance and mix.’Mary’s Dress’ has a reverb-drenched vocal and a guitar strum that evokes John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ before a pedal steel joins in for added colour and keening ache. ‘I’m Yr Kamera’ is a slack, reluctant but thoroughly infectious slice of Ben Kweller-circa-2009’s-Changing Horses-acoustic stomp. Throughout, there is the melding of male/female voices that elicits touches of Gillian Welch’s The Harrow and the Harvest or even the Civil Wars. Stand-outs are in plentiful supply, but they certainly include ‘Another Name For Mercy’.
One of the biggest shocks of this release is just how fully-formed Rose already sounds. He has breadth, depth and is not short of ambition; nor is he shy of using the tools with which to realise it. Spurs is an impressive debut that deserves widespread attention. Merely 12 months ago, solo troubadour Nick Mulvey was playing tiny gigs in tiny venues. Next year, he will be headlining the Roundhouse in London and he has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. There is an appetite for material such as his and also material such as this. We wouldn’t be surprised if Rose follows a similar ascendency. At the very least, Villagers finally have competition in their field.
A taut 31-minute collection of tunes, these are songs coated in aching yearning but with hints of optimism pushing through. As a candle in the dark, this trim album would be an effective guide. It signposts an exciting future.
Jo Rose will support First Aid Kit at the Royal Albert Hall on 24th September. You can get tickets here.
You can stream his debut album for free atsoundcloud.com/jothomasrose/sets/spurs.
For a taster, check this out: