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Kensington Blues: The Legacy of Jack Rose

Photo by Rik Helsen

Revered Philadelphia based fingerstyle guitarist Jack Rose passed away on December 5th , 2009, he was 38 years old. Rose was best known for his powerful improvisations on 6 and 12 string guitar which were firmly rooted in the American Primitive/Takoma School of exploratory guitar playing pioneered by John Fahey and Robbie Basho. Over the past decade Rose, through unwavering devotion to his craft and his acclaimed Monolithic guitar sound, established himself as one of the greatest proponents in a new era of American Primitive school of guitar playing.

Jack Rose, who was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia, started his musical career after moving to
Richmond, where in 1995 he co-founded the experimental (noise/drone) group Pelt with friends Mike Gangloff and Patrick Best. His solo guitar career began in 2001 when he self released a limited edition cdr titled Hung Far Low, Portland, Oregon which was picked up and distributed by Virginia imprint Klang Industries. Rose’s first Official full-length record Red Horse,White Mule, issued as a limited 500 copy LP by Eclipse Records in 2002, contains the rich and gorgeous modal exploration titled Red Horse, the Spanish flavored White Mule, and his evocative slide guitar interpretation of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground…all of which established the arrival of a new original voice, and heir apparent to the throne of John Fahey who passed away only a year earlier. Rose followed up Red Horse, White Mule with the records Opium Musick (2003) and Raag Manifestations (2004), two LPs released on Eclipse Records, both of which focus on exploratory ‘raga influenced’ modal themes inspired by Robbie Basho. In 2003 he recorded a variation of Red Horse titled Red Horse ll which appeared alongside tracks by Sir Richard Bishop, Steffen Basho Junghans, and
Tetuzi Akiyama on Locust Records compilation Wooden Guitar. Raag Manifestos gained international acclaim when it was voted one of 2004’s “50 Records of the Year’ by UK’s seminal music magazine The Wire. Rose gained wider exposure the same year in May, when he was invited to the BBC to do a session with legendary DJ John Peel. 2004 also saw his inclusion on the Devendra Banhart curated compilation Golden Apples of the Sun (which heralded a new generation of innovative American folk musicians).

In 2005 Rose released Kensington Blues (named after the blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood district he lived in), the LP now considered to be the High-Water Mark of his career. Kensington Blues embodies all the signatures of his powerful, intense, and versatile style, and firmly established Roses' World Wide album, which on occasion he would humbly discredit, but was also quoted as saying “a really hard record to live up to”. Highlights include: the ragtime groove of Flirtin’ with the Undertaker, the Basho-esque Cross the North Fork and Cathedral et Chartres…both brilliant and powerful explorations on 12 stringguitar. On Kensington he faithfully tips his hat to John Fahey with a beautiful interpretation of Fahey’s signature piece Sunflower River Blues. Calais to Dover and Now That I’m a Full Grown Man II find Rose in deep Raga style meditation, and his fingerpicking and slide techniques on those recordings are simply Stunning!

Jack Rose established himself through years of incessant touring, playing well over a hundred shows each year throughout the U.S., U.K. and Europe. His albums offer a intense chronicle to his vast experience as a road warrior (further documented by the recent vinyl releases I Do Play Rock and Roll (2008) and the Black Dirt
(2009) both issued by Three Lobed Recordings), as they were all recorded live in the studio, usually captured in only one or two takes. Rose’s voice was further on the rise; as 2010 was to see his debut release Luck in the Valley, on the acclaimed independent record label Thrill Jockey. Luck in the Valley along with his releases Dr Ragtime and his Pals (2008), and the excellent Jack Rose and Black Twig Pickers (2009) represent Jack’s exploration of pre- World War II American music. Thrill Jockey will posthumously release the album in early 2010.

Since 2004 Cambridge, Massachusetts based guitarist Glenn Jones had become Rose’s frequent touring companion, and the two would often perform Brilliant duets (Jones first appeared on Roses’ Opium Musick for the duet Linden Ave. Stomp and Jack appears on Glenn’s acclaimed 2009 record Barbecue Bob in Fishtown). 2010 will also see the release of the DVD The Things We Used To Do by the Portland, Oregon based label Strange Attractors Audio House, documenting the comradery between them.

With the exception of his first cdr release, all of his music has been released on vinyl, reflecting his own fanaticism as a collector of vinyl recordings. Jack Rose played 6 and 12 string, and slide guitar (solely played on his favorite handmade Weissenborn copy) with equal virtuosity that always exuded passion, grace, and fire! Rose was a ‘Blue Collar’ American Musical Hero to many, which established him a World Wide Cult following, but no fan of the steel string acoustic guitar should be without Jack Rose’s legacy in their record collection, a vast body of evocative musical works that spans the entire first decade of the 21st century, and establishes a new school of American guitar playing, the Kensington school.

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Tags: Dr Ragtime, Jack Rose, Kensington Blues, Luck in The Valley, Raag Manifestos, Red Horse, White Mule


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Comment by Buck Curran on March 31, 2010 at 8:36pm
April 6th will be the release of 'Things that we used to do', a dvd collection featuring live performances and interviews of Jack Rose and Glenn Jones...filmed last year. Here's a look at the trailer:

Jack Rose & Glenn Jones - 'The Things That We Used to Do' DVD t... from Strange Attractors Audio House on Vimeo.

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