Monday, March 11, 2019

Sprout EP, Luxury Single by Stephanie Rose

You hear some singers for the first time and know, beyond doubt, they are born for song. These are the sort of singers who wear music like a loose garment, as natural as breathing itself, and treat every word with the same gravity no matter the composer. Stephanie Rose has long since proven she is that caliber of singer, but her new EP release Spout, the second in her young career, catapults her into rarified air. The EP’s six songs shows her mettle tackling various types of modern country, but also a willingness to overturn the expectations of newcomers and reminding them that country music is an elastic, rather than static, thing. She has a keen-eyed acumen for looking past the surface of her subjects and a skill for storytelling we hear from few performers of her ilk. This is the sound of a gifted artist willing to take chances, but still more than capable of entertaining the masses.

Stephanie Rose is in full control of the first song, “Sprout”, from the moment her voice rises out of the mix. She sounds energized by both the song’s sentiments and musical performance surrounding her, but demonstrates the loose yet well placed consideration for never overstating herself. Everything she does fits the song. This is further away, nominally, from a typical country style than the EP’s later songs, but the organ and horns added into the song only make it more enjoyable rather than sounding like needless and arbitrary touches. Horns aren’t unheard of in country music, but you nevertheless should admire the daring in attempting to reintroduce them to modern audiences.

“Rusted Love” has songwriting showing how Rose can write about well worn topics with her own voice and she has an eye for telling imagery capable of opening a song’s meaning for listeners. The best songs, invariably, allow listeners to form their own personal associations, however, and though much of Sprout is written from a presumably autobiographical slant, Rose is never so nakedly specific about her life that it breaks the songwriting spell. “Rusted Love” is an excellent example of a song that might resonate in different ways with very different people. The drumming is a big reason for the song’s dramatic push, but it has strong dynamics that draw you in.

The song “Luxury” is quite unlike the two preceding numbers. There’s no striding rock beat or horns – instead, there’s a level of intimacy present here Rose never aspires to in the first two numbers. She takes us into the life of a family living on the financial margins and preserving through it thanks to their love for one another – there’s no easy answers offered up in this song and Rose’s voice confronts the its details and subject matter with a wide ranging emotional vocal.

“Same Old Same Old” is a lot more light hearted, by far, and has a balance between sensitivity and wry detachment that I like, but it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without such an on point arrangement. The bare bones tempo, harmonica and guitar, and instantly memorable chorus are greater than the sum of their individual parts. Sprout shows how to write and recording a meaningful EP release while making it sound easy. Anyone who knows music and songwriting well understands, of course, these six songs are the result of much effort, experience, years of honing a craft, making the necessary connections with sympathetic collaborators, but Stephanie Rose makes it all come across like these songs were there all along and only waiting for her to arrive and give them voice. It’s the highest compliment I can give and worth every syllable.

Joshua Beach

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