By Hal Horowitz
Safe To Run's subtle melodies connect, clearing a path for Rose to enhance the modifications embraced on this provocative and charming collection.
2. Chet Baker
4. Safe to Run (feat. Hurray For The Riff Raff)
5. St. Francis Waltz
6. New Magic II
7. Dream Girl
9. Levee Song
10. Full Value
11. Arm’s Length
Much has changed in Esther Rose’s life since the release of her last album, 2021’s How Many Times. However, some things always endure.
The Michigan-born singer/songwriter moved from her near decade-long home in New Orleans to the more open spaces of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Additionally, she’s joined the high-profile New West label, while making a pact to abandon the breakup songs that populated her previous record.
While Rose is focusing on a less downbeat but still introspective grace, the most impressive modification is how the recording process for these eleven originals changed.
Co-producer Ross Farbe remains, shifting into full producer mode as the duo abandons the live-in-the-studio method Rose had adhered to for her previous three releases. Instead, they favor a layered, overdubbed, multi-tracking process including (yikes!) infrequent use of synthesizers and drum machines.
Yet Rose still keeps one foot in the past, working with fiddle player Lyle Werner as before, along with New Orleans friends Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff) and the city’s Silver Synthetic band.
While the recording technique and subject matter differs, Rose’s soft, dreamy voice and hushed attention to compositional detail remains. The mix of her intimate songwriting and the revised, perhaps improved, sonics make a powerful, moving and occasionally dryly humorous combination.
The latter is exhibited when telling a new boyfriend on ‘Insecure’; “… I know you love me/’Cause you buy me shit”. She follows with the self-deprecating “And I’m doing better, honey I’m still a mess, your little mess”, supported by an easygoing bed of strumming guitars.
The mood gets somber on the title cut, joined by Segarra’s harmony as they ponder climate change (“The water’s rising everywhere”) and Rose’s decision to relocate (“Flying down the highway in a borrowed car / I don’t know who I am”) over a coating of folksy twang that’s enhanced by Nick Cohon’s Byrds’-styled picking.
The vibe turns country, a reminder of Rose’s previous sound, for the somber ‘St. Francis Waltz’ with its double fiddles, skeletal acoustic guitar and notable lack of percussion.
On early single ‘Chet Baker’, Rose muses on her 23-year-old self, obliquely referencing the titular jazz legend and recalling her rebellious, personally destructive ways. Religion pierces the closing ‘Arm’s Length’ as Rose sings with a sly wink “Come on Jesus, don’t you die for me/You take yourself so seriously”.
Safe to Run’s subtle melodies and similarly understated instrumentation takes a few spins to connect, as the overall groove stays on low boil. Nevertheless, connect they do, clearing a path for future records to enhance the modifications embraced on this provocative and charming collection.
8 / 10
Esther Rose's 2023 album, Safe To Run, is released April 21st via New West Records. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below:
For more country albums released in 2023 and their release dates, head here.
For more Esther Rose, see below: