Monday, October 12, 2009

Raina Rose - End of Endless False Starts


There is a singer/ songwriter I know of. She has a limited vocal range, and her vocal lines sometimes seem limited as a result, but she manages within these limitations to be remarkably expressive. Her guitar playing doesn’t call attention to itself, but, on rare occasions it comes out that she is a fine player. But the main draw is her words. She writes the kind of enigmatic lyrics that can make close friends get into heated discussions about their meaning, but, with no agreement reached, the conversation is fascinating.

No, I’m not talking about Suzanne Vega. I’m talking about Raina Rose.

End of Endless False Starts is Raina Rose’s latest release. Rose sings in a voice with a deceptive sweetness to it. I kept expecting the album to dissolve into new-age vapidness, but it never happens. In fact, Rose’s voice has a strength to it that creeps up on you slowly as you listen. Her guitar playing is a highly rhythmic strumming, with occasional fingerpicking mixed in. Producer John Elliott creates varied textures for the songs, starting with mostly acoustic instruments initially, then adding distorted electronics in the middle part, and pulling back to the softer sound at the end.

Before I go on, I want to tell you a little about myself. I mentioned that Rose’s lyrics are enigmatic, and I interpreted them through the filter of my own experience. I am the youngest of three boys. When I turned eighteen, my father gathered the family together to tell us that he was leaving my mother. My mother nursed her hurt for several years, and my parents never got back together. But eventually, they became friends again. In due time, I got married. My wife and I had four years together before my daughter was born. Eventually, we also had a son. We are still together, and I don’t foresee that changing.

Now, let me tell you what I hear in Raina Rose’s words. End of Endless False Starts describes the evolution of a relationship. The album begins with Are You Still in Love With the World? When the two characters meet, one or both are on the rebound from a painful breakup. As they set aside the emotional baggage, Desire, physical, emotional, and intellectual, takes over. They become an item. Blind Cyrus reveals that she is a traveling musician, one who suffers a sudden attack of homesickness in the middle of a performance. Air & Water skips ahead in time. Now they have had a son and a daughter, and the children are ready to go off on their own; the couple are about to get reacquainted, after living for the children for so long. The River backs up, to look at their hopes and fears from when their son was born.

Suddenly, in Misaligned Tires, the music changes abruptly. What had been a sunny sound, with only occasional clouds, abruptly turns dark and threatening. The song describes a wild and dangerous ride. He leaves her all of a sudden, as she wrestles with her pain and anger. It’s an amazing and startling moment on the album. After some time has passed, she realizes that she still loves and misses him. This is eloquently expressed in This Ain’t My House. Finally, in Not Not Love, they get back together. The relationship now has a sense of fragility that was never there before, and this is captured beautifully.

The album closes with Starts With a Low Hum. Everything seems to be in turmoil again, and the lyrics here were the most opaque to me of any on the album. But what I think may be happening is that the mother is seeing her experiences repeated in her daughter’s life. All of the old feelings come back in a rush.

Sprinkled throughout all of this are religious allusions and images that I cannot interpret. So there could be a whole other layer of meaning that I am completely missing. What I know is that the words are fascinating, and the album as a whole is compelling and emotionally real. Raina Rose is hard at work on her next one. I hope to have a report here when it’s done.

I should also mention a peculiar thing. There are ten songs listed on the album cover. But, if you pop the disc into your computer, you will discover that there are twelve tracks. Track eleven is a minute and a half of silence followed 20 seconds of odd noises. But track twelve is an extra song called I Would Like to Kiss Everyone. I was strongly tempted to post it here, to make sure everyone got to hear it. It has a great groove, and a very imaginative arrangement. I don’t think it fits in with storyline of the album, but it is a treat.

Raina Rose: Blind Cyrus

Raina Rose: Misaligned Tires