Those of you already familiar with the music of this Canadian born/now Austin resident, courtesy maybe of her 2015 album “ Heartbreaker of the Year” or EP “South Texas Suite” released earlier this year, will be aware of how she takes her varied musical influences and uses them to inspire her writing, creating a sound she calls “vintage-pop-infused neo-traditional-country”!!
Her latest album “ Rule 62” due for release on Oct 6th carries on this tradition, again there are nods to her trad country heroes ( Dolly, Kitty, Hank) and her appreciation of 50’s girl groups and 70’s soul are also evident on the eleven tracks but she cleverly incorporates them into her unique sound. Instrumentation includes everything you’d expect on a country album, with some fantastic brass thrown in too and vocally Whitney never disappoints.
In case you were wondering, the album’s title (and Whitney’s personal mantra!) has its origins in Alcoholics Anonymous, who’s founding members scoffed at the idea of adhering to any of the rules that had been formulated apart from no. 62 which was “ don’t take yourself too seriously”!!
As with her 2015 release, Whitney called upon The Mavericks’ front man Raoul Malo to produce, this time joined by Niko Bolas ( Neil Young, Melissa Etheridge among other production credits) which enabled Raoul to play a more active part as guitarist/vocalist. The album was recorded in Nashville in under a week and I particularly love the pedal steel playing of music city’s Chris Scruggs throughout. Apologies, I have no writing credits available but I am sure Whitney will have had input on all the tracks, she solo wrote all of her last album and I’ll be interested to see if there are any collaborations this time round.
I’m a bit of a nerd in that I love to listen to albums ( especially the first few times round) as an entire body of work, I feel they are more than just the sum of their parts and I love the order of the tracks on Rule 62. It immediately struck me that the four opening songs are all break up themed, albeit with different focuses, and then the album closer brings things full circle with it’s ” cry me a river ” message.
So, on the first lilting, mid tempo track we hear Whitney sing “ I don’t want half, I just want out”. This track oozes country in every respect! There’s some great lyrics emphasising that all Whitney wants is to get well away from her cheating ex husband and end the relationship…..” you take the house dear, I’ll take the train”, “ tell your girlfriend she can have all my clothes”, and she says he can even keep her ring and the selfish cat as they both remind her of him. The more uptempo “ Arizona” follows, in which she berates herself for being blinded by love and not seeing tell tale signs that her partner was only interested in himself “ you’ll look after you, that’s what you always do”. I’ve heard this one played live and it’s great fun, a real moving on and putting the past behind you song featuring some fabulous lead guitar. “ Better To My Baby” is a break up song where this time she is the one to blame, she voices her regret and implores her ex’s new love to treat him better than she did. This is one of my favourites from this album, with its wonderful Ronnettes /Phil Spector vibe.
There’s some particularly beautiful guitar playing ( by the aforementioned Raoul Malo) and vocal harmonies on the final in this opening grouping of break up tracks, the ballad “ You Never Cross My Mind” . This one has grown on me the more I listen to it, a post-break up song that really pulls on the heartstrings and you’ll know why when you get the chance to hear it yourself. In contrast, “ Time To Cry”, the album closer is a fingers up to the ex, a faster paced number in which I can hear rock’n’roll/honky tonk influences with a smattering of Beach Boys thrown in for good measure! Like “Arizona”, I heard her play this live on her recent UK tour and it was absolutely fantastic and full of attitude.
Another example of clever track order comes further down the listing with “ Tied to the Wheel “, written from the perspective of a truck driver missing his family while out on the road, being followed by “ Truckers Funeral” . This was apparently inspired by the true story relayed to Whitney by a bank teller, and its the tale of two wives turning up to say their goodbyes to their same trucker husband, neither of them aware until the day of the other’s existence. A true country style, storytelling song with multiple key changes to boot ( no pun intended!) it’s another of my stand out tracks that has the makings of a modern day classic as far as I’m concerned.
If its Whitney’s soul/funk influence you’re interested in, look no further than the lead single “ Can’t Stop Shakin’” which immediately brought to mind Robert Cray when I first heard it. The song started out as a “ personal anthem….something I’d sing to calm myself down” she has said. This track was recorded on inauguration day which apparently helped develop it into this finished form.
Yes, this may be an album with contrasting influences coming into play, but they unite to produce some incredible music for today’s country fans.
Whitney and her band play a string of shows across the States and Canada following an album release party at Austin’s iconic Continental Club ( where Whitney plays on a regular basis) on Oct 5th, and I really hope they will soon be returning to the UK. In the meantime for more information and to pre-order Rule 62 check out whitneyrosemusic.com
RULE 62 TRACK LISTING
- “I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out)”
- “Better to My Baby”
- “You Never Cross My Mind”
- “You Don’t Scare Me”
- “Can’t Stop Shakin’”
- “Tied to the Wheel”
- “Trucker’s Funeral”
- “Wake Me in Wyoming”
- “You’re a Mess”
- “Time to Cry”
Review written by Lesley Hastings