Fired from assorted jobs and apparently not Ms Popularity among her university architecture professors on account of her rather too honest opinions of their work, Caroline Rose describes herself as a failed scholar (though she did get her degree) and modern-day hobo, living in her van and travelling America’s highways and backroads with her music.
Born in the South and raised in the Northeast, you suspect she’s not someone likely to back down in an argument nor someone likely to sit back and not let her voice be heard on the things that get under her skin.
This is pretty clear from the outset of her new album I Will Not Be Afraid with the swampy rockabilly and snake-charmer cocktail of Blood on Your Bootheels, an angry song inspired by the shooting of Trayvon Martin sung in the voice of an embittered, rage-filled, paranoid, Bible-thumping racist. Likewise, America Religious, which, to a driving rhythm reminiscent of an ADD version of Marrakesh Express, turns her gaze on the complexity of the country’s religious fervor while the farfisa organ-backed Tightrope Walker simmers with the tension of rural Mississippi.
A kindred spirit to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, At Midnight is a scratchy talking blues nightmare of a nation complicit in its own Stepford makeover and both the harmonica wailing, military beat Time Spent, Money Grow! and the Dylanish acoustic protest folk Red Bikini Waltz address an uncaring, self-engorging consumerist society where status symbols and material success trample over compassion and humanity.
As you might gather, there’s not a lot of sugar among Rose’s highly literate and articulate invective, although the edgy (backwards psychedelic guitar arm-wrestling with lap steel) When You Go does find her supporting everyone’s right to be free to bury their soul in liquor and cheap perfume and Let Me In is a riff-driven portrait of a disaffected young zombie generation trying to find a way to feel.
After the storm, the album’s final three cuts are more optimistic, the roughly tender acoustic strummed, choral harmony Shepherd finding love amid the darkness and beds of stone, sparking hints of vintage Janis Ian, the mandolin-speckled Back East shuffling down the road back home and, apparently inspired by Crazy Horse and Son House alike, I Will Not be Afraid itself an upright bass slapping rockabilly declaration of courage and defiance in the face of adversity.
It’s a raw album fuelled by tough, rootless life, but also one with the freedom to live, act and say how and what she wants. If this is the sort of music that produces, then you have to hope the road ahead continues to be cracked and hard.
Review by: Mike Davies
Caroline shows off her moves, Napolean Dynamite style on her title track video: