Caroline Rose’s debut a musical delight

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

Caroline Rose’s debut album “I Will Not Be Afraid” places her among a collection of young artists defying easy classification. Her Facebook page labels Rose an “alternative, rockabilly, vintage country” artist; her website carolinerosemusic.com adds blues to the mix, but several delightful tracks defy any label but bluegrass.

The eleven tracks cover wide territory. “Tightrope Walker” is an upbeat, danceable jam that calls to mind the best of The Wallflowers, particularly the warm, wavering organ; while “When You Go” is a slow, quieter affair, crafted almost entirely from a spare acoustic guitar and muffled drums. Rose demonstrates her range again on “At Midnight,” a rhythmic and otherworldly meditation with nearly inaudible lyrics layered atop the drums, punctuated only briefly by guitar. Other songs could suggest comparisons to artists like KT Tunstall or Brandi Carlile, but never for more than a few tracks before Rose brushes them aside.

While “I Will Not Be Afraid” is a well crafted and produced album, part of its charm are the perceptible holes in the polish, as with Paul McCartney’s “McCartney.” Rose’s fingers can be heard scraping over guitar strings as she moves from chord to chord, a few lyrics are more mumbling than singing and at other times she is clearly barely holding back laughter. This sets her apart from many other artists who are overproduced into oblivion and reminds the listener of her humanity. The album sounds like what it is: not a marquee artist’s upteenth effort, but the debut of a young artist, still perhaps more comfortable playing in a coffee shop than a recording studio. As she says on her website, “You can hear my history . . . it’s a bit rough around the edges, a bit wild.”

Lyrically, Rose draws on her past and the nightly news for inspiration. Only 24 years old, she has already accumulated a wealth of stories to draw upon, including several previous chances at stardom which failed to pan out, working a series of dead-end jobs, and failing as a scholar despite a full ride scholarship (like Ice Cube, she studied architecture). The opening track, “Blood On Your Bootheels,” is about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and her frustration with inequality and a lack of opportunity in America, a theme which reappears on “Tightrope Walker” and elsewhere.

“I Will Not Be Afraid” is entertaining throughout, and stands up well to repeat listening. Several uptempo tracks intersperse the generally downbeat album, making it easy to either half-ignore as it plays in the background or actively listen to and study.

Caroline Rose can be found on Facebook, at carolinerosemusic.com or at highroadtouring.com/artists/caroline-rose. “I Will Not Be Afraid” was released on Aug. 19 on Little Hi!/Thirty Tigers records.