Friday, November 17, 2023

Paul Rodgers - Midnight Rose

Obviously I’m a bit behind the curve with a review of this new ‘un from Paul Rodgers.  Fact is, I didn’t even know Midnight Rose was out till a few weeks ago, when I saw a review by a fellow blogger.  But I’m glad I’ve caught up with it in the last couple of weeks.
The opening track ‘Coming Home’ is almost worth the purchase price alone.  A big fat chugging riff sets forth over a thumping beat from Rick Fedyk, and then that soulful, liquid, head-turning weighs to lift the thing to a whole other level. Welcome back Paul – the more so in the wake of the strokes and life-threatening illness that could easily have silenced that voice for good.  He manages to soar too, on the bridge, and there’s a quicksilver guitar solo* if all of the above ain’t enough for you.
Paul Rodgers - still soulful after all these years
Pic by Ron Lyon
Also featuring in the wallopingly good stakes is ‘Living It Up’, a paean to life in America (with a nod to Canada, where he actually lives most of the year) driven by strutting, stop-time riffing interspersed with helter-skelter guitar lines, while Rodgers spells out his affection for the “Home of the blues and the heart of soul”, and observes that “Memphis music moved me so – and I’ve never been the same”.  Meanwhile ‘Photo Shooter’ is a sturdy affair, with a tough swagger to its backing, and some neat guitar harmonies, but its dispassionate commentary on the role of a news photographer is less emotionally engaged than the other songs here.
There’s a different, sunny-side-up vibe to ‘Dance In The Sun’, which opens with classical guitar from Rob Dewar spinning a sparkling web.  A song about consigning pain to the past and looking forward with optimism, it’s given an extra layer of warmth by the backing vocals of Leslie Page and hints of Latin rhythms before it closes with children’s laughter.  ‘Take Love’ then picks up the positivity baton in a rockier, but still relaxed fashion.  It builds from an acoustic intro, and there are plenty of nippy slide embellishments as Rodgers brightly offers encouragement to “Take love when you find it, ‘cause it may not come so easy next time”, with more multi-tracked harmonies cooked up by Paige, as well as more extemporised injections of extra soul.
‘Midnight Rose’ is a contemplative ballad that takes a different musical tack, with a foundation of mandolin strumming and violin adding some elegiac texture as Rodgers croons that “I know that I have had no one to tell me I am not alone”, backed by some choir-like wordless harmonies.  It gathers a little more strength as it progresses, but in truth it becomes a bit repetitive.
Way back when, Rodgers showed a fondness for “cowboy” themed lyrics on the likes of ‘Bad Company’, and another one surfaces here with ‘Highway Robber’, a patient bit of High Noon-like storytelling about a shootout between renegades and a lawman, with chiming acoustic guitar embroidered by flickerings of spangly electric.  The closing ‘Melting’ also deploys some Western-sounding backing as it opens with a spiralling acoustic guitar motif over a queit, tapped out beat, but is rather better to these ears.  Partly it’s a plea for refuge from troubled times and (echoing Robert Johnson) “hounds of hell on my trail”.  But it also has a mystical, Zen-like vibe at times - especially towards the end - and as it muscles up halfway through, with Todd Ronning’s bass picking up that earlier motif, Rodgers brings more ache and passion to his vocal.
Midnight Rose is Paul Rodgers’ first album of original material in 24 years.  It may not be a 24-carat knockout, but it does show that his songwriting talent is still very much intact – and thankfully that classic voice is still the business.

*Electric guitar duties on the album are shared by Ray Roper and Keith Scott, but there's no info about who plays lead when.

Midnight Rose is out now on Sun Records. 

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