Grooving – The Real Thing

In today’s “alternative” music scene, being different is about as mainstream as wearing Levis. As long as musicians are different in just the right way, they have a chance to make it to the top-ten charts, but this leaves little room for artists who are truly alternative, like Al Rose.

In his second CD, Naked in a Trailer, Rose displays his largely undiscovered talent throughout the album’s 13 songs and shows that the genius of songwriting lies not just in great tunes or in powerful lyrics but in the proper blending of these elements. In his lyrics, Rose once again proves himself a poet, creating strong images with meanings that are not literal. The Transcendos back him up with melodies and harmonies that charge the lyrics with emotion, and the mood of the album alternates between angry and frustrated, and hopeful.

That’s just about as far as any classification can go. Trying to label Rose’s music leads only to furrowed brows and perplexity. Part of the album’s uniqueness stems from blending the songs with such a variety of musical instruments. In addition to the electric and acoustic guitar, the songs feature the mandolin, the flute, the banjo, the accordion, and bagpipes. Not only do the songs sound unusual, they speak to listeners in a variety of instrumental voices: Rose doesn’t sing just one type of song.

In “Wander Blind,” Rose sings something like a modern spiritual, repeating the chant, “It’s all right to take the time to wander blind.” In the very next song, “Reasons to Bleed,” he steps up to the microphone as a folk singer and dishes up lyrics that could be interpreted in as many ways as there are listeners. The laid-back guitar playing echoes a Grateful Dead tune. Rose creates unique variations on rock and roll elsewhere as well, in “Visionary Tractor Man,” for instance, in which he creates a rock-and-roll tune with a country twang.

The title track sounds like folk rock but asks a question that would trouble any Generation X’er: “Will I be naked in a trailer with a gun inside my mouth?” This sense of disillusionment, heightened by intense confusion, surfaces again in “Delirium Exacto,” in which lyrics and music are again powerfully blended to move Rose’s listeners. Similarly, in “Vote For Me,” the slow and eerie quality of the tune combined with the vulgarity of the lyrics creates a sinister effect. Al Rose knows well what it means for form to follow function.

In the last song of the album, “Hurry Back,” Rose sings, “My stomach pit alarm clock goes and screams the call to arms. It’s a touch and go revealing wall down the hallways to the heart.” Like poetry, Rose’s lyrics convey strong images and meanings that can operate on the listener’s subconscious level. Even if you’re not clear about what the words mean, they have their emotional effect.

This quality of emotion is the one thing that all the songs have in common. The music of Al Rose is sometimes confused, sometimes laid-back, sometimes seeming to search for its own meaning, but you can bet that he has done some introspection to produce each and every one of these songs. Listeners can feel the anxiety and relaxation, the hopefulness and cynicism that Al Rose tries to convey – and his success in leading listeners through these emotions is a remarkable testament to his dual skills as musician and poet.

— Michael Maiese, Strong Coffee, Vol. VII No. 4-5, Jan. 1997