Canadian singer-songwriter Whitney Rose found a kindred spirit in the Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Malo produced, added vocals, and brought along several of his bandmates to give Rose’s sophomore effort an eclectic pop-country feel. Rose shades more to the female vocalists of the 1960s than Malo’s operatic balladeering, but the slow-motion twang of the guitars works just as well on Rose’s originals as it does with the Mavericks. Her self-titled debut hinted at retro proclivities, but Malo and guitarist Nichol Robertson really lay on the atmosphere, and Rose blossoms amid tempos and backing vocals that amplify the romance of her material.
Even the upbeat numbers provide room for Rose to warble, and she tips a primary influence with a cover of the Ronettes “Be My Baby.” Interpreting one of the greatest pop singles of all time is a tricky proposition, but Rose and Malo make the song their own with a slower tempo that emphasizes the song’s ache over its iconic beat, and a duet arrangement that has Malo moving between lead, harmony, backing and counterpoint. Similarly, Rose’s cover of Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer” is turned from forlorn barroom misery to a wistful memory that won’t go away. Burke Carroll’s steel guitar provides a wonderful, somnolent coda to the latter, echoing Rose’s spellbound vocal.
The opening “Little Piece of You” is both a love song and a statement of musical purpose as Rose sings of crossing lines and open minds, and the arrangement uses rhythm and vocal nuances that echo country’s Nashville Sound. She writes cleverly, leaving the listener to decide if “My First Rodeo” is about a relationship, sex or a breakup. The same is true for “The Last Party,” whose forlorn emotion could be the result of a breakup or a more permanent end. The vocal waver and rising melody of “Only Just a Dream” reveals uncertainty, but Rose finally gives in with “Lasso,” turning her doubts into commitment.
Recorded in only four days, there was clearly a mind meld between Rose, Malo and the players, as the arrangements are deeply tied to the songs’ moods. There’s a bit of funk on “The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night” that recalls Jennie C. Riley’s “Back Side of Dallas” and Dolly Parton’s “Getting Happy.” The title track’s bass line and finger-snapping assurance suggest Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” but the song is actually a kiss-off, rather than an amatory celebration, and Drew Jurecka’s lush strings cradle Rose and Malo’s duet “Ain’t It Wise.” Released in Canada last April, this is getting a well-deserved worldwide push and some welcome stateside tour dates. [©2015 Hyperbolium]