Eileen Rose is a card-carrying member of the American expat’s union. From working-class Boston, she emigrated to the UK nine years ago, first to rural Essex and then on to North London. As a result, she wears her Americana on her sleeve as only an expat can, her grievous angels still by her side.
Sometimes it sounds like the Velvet Underground backing a hungover and bed-headed Emmylou Harris. At other moments, it’s Rickie Lee Jones fronting the Rolling Stones, circa Exile on Main Street. Always the acoustic guitar and slow, soaring melody, never far from the tambourine and the loose-hipped groove. One suspects liberal amounts of alcohol may have been involved.
Bluesy inflections accompanied by an underwater fairground carousel of the title track, “Long Shot Novena,” which is about faith and home vs. ambition and ego. “I have bragged about my free will/That’s when it failed,” and the album closes with, “I got time for one more pint/Don’t get me wrong, you folks are alright/and it’s been international/but I’m going home.” It’s always ironic that ‘home’ is only truly fascinating to those who aren’t there. I hesitate to call Rose a country artist or a blues artist, but American traditionalist would look right on her worn passport. She understands this stuff from the inside.
Rose can rise above many of the standard American blues/gospel lyrics that would fail an artist with a lesser voice or weaker phrasing. “Angel falls in the water, wets his wings/He can’t fly for awhile, it’s one of those things,” could be suspect, but then Tom Waits crooning unfolds into a beautiful lovefest of a girl and music being greater than the world and (again) notions of home. On the plane ride home, she’s “got Tom Waits crooning, and he’s so much better than me/Trays up, wheels up coming in/Come and sing, Tom, yeah, come again./In your hip black jeans, with your portable phone/You wanna tell me about America, well/What do you know?”
And “For Marlene” is one of the saddest songs you will ever hear — a letter of empathy to the mother of a childhood friend who was viciously murdered in Boston several years ago. “Grace in forgiving and all that other shit/That they tell you when they want to/Take the sting out/It never does, it never does/Not when you love someone that’s been bled out.”
Rock and roll should have redemptive qualities, or it’s not worth the bother. And if the artist cannot be bothered to play for keeps, why should the listener be bothered, period? Eileen Rose’s confessional is honest, forthright and pretty damn fearless too. May all her prayers be answered.
E-mail Shireen Liane at [email protected].