Fascinating singer-songwriter offers a dreamy collection, with songs influenced by Joni Mitchell, faith, love, war and, er, Nigel.

Length:10 tracks / 42 mins
Label: self-released - www.deborahrose.co.uk

Even before hearing a note, I found Rose’s story intriguing.

The English singer-songwriter had Robert Plant on backing vocals on her Wilde Wood album, has sung for former Democrat presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, and is endorsed by singer Mary Gautier. She has toured with Jimmy Webb, Ralph McTell and Fairport Convention. She has helped rehabilitation of prisoners, worked with children and dementia patients, and promoted the charity Planting for Hope in Uganda.

Some tracks on this disc were written in unusual places: one in the home of Eva Cassidy’s parents; at least one in the Crete cave where Joni Mitchell wrote Blue; and another was started at the chapel in Balmoral, while sitting opposite Queen Elizabeth II.
So the music had a lot to live up to, and initially I was disappointed, as the tremor in her singing style seemed a little retro, evocative of some influential ‘60s and ‘70s artists. However, subsequent listens revealed a gentle, dreamy collection, with moments that you want to last longer.

Rose’s motivating faith comes to the fore from the start, as in “Wrestling with Angels,” she sings of looking heavenward, sensing unbounded grace and a fuller glory. The theme follows in “Grace Go I,” which gently celebrates the “strength of God’s repair.” It was partly inspired by Rose’s prisons work, but also by people she met on a long Greyhound bus trip.

The key sound of this self-released and largely self-penned collection is Rose’s voice, low-key, confessional and intimate, drawing you close to listen (in purer moments, she sounds a little like Eva Cassidy; in more aching phrases, she often brings Karen Bergquist to mind). Any other backing is slim and discreet, except for the more rhythmic “Willow of the Canyon,” where the tick-tock guitar notes and rare percussion drive the song forward beautifully. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Walsh plays most instrumental parts on the album.

Displaying the range of tracks here, among the songs of introspection and love sit two lyrically contrasting works: one about the murderous nobleman “Bluebeard,” based on a French fable, and one inspired by a newspaper report about the world’s loneliest bird, “Nigel,” a gannet that fell in love with a concrete decoy.  

Joni Mitchell fans will recognise reference points in both “Basket of Roses” and the wonderful “Willow of the Canyon.” These will be the songs penned in Crete, then.

Rose has a degree in English Literature and that passion surfaces here.  The poet A. E. Housman has had quite an airing since the centenary of the First World War began, with artists such as Show of Hands adapting his “The Lads in their Hundreds” for song. Remarkably, both that and “The Recruit” (recorded here) predated the war by some two decades. Her breathy vocal and a minimalist production give it a suitably portentous and atmospheric mood.
The final track is a judicious co-write with Christina Nichols, who contributes piano and backing vocals to the sparsely beautiful song (apparently only completed the day before recording). It works well as a final track, its key line hovering in the head long after the music has stopped playing.

The inner cover is sprinkled with those lyrics, asserting, “I don’t want to swim in shallow waters, take me to the ocean.” Rose has an MA in songwriting and this mellow set displays that depth.

Derek Walker