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Amid the veritable crowd of post-John Fahey fingerstyle guitarists who emerged over the past decade or so—Glenn Jones, James Blackshaw, Ben Reynolds, Sir Richard Bishop, Nick Schillace—Rose exhibited a rare ecumenical enthusiasm for the possibilities of his instrument, vibrantly and convincingly embracing traditions as disparate as old-time music, baroque folk, ragtime, Indian raga, and blues. His technique was dazzling, but for him it was merely a means to an end. On the gorgeous recent LP The Black Dirt Sessions (Three-Lobed) he traverses several of his favorite approaches, using Fahey’s style as a nexus for various American folk and prejazz idioms—“Fishtown Flower,” for instance, is a charming duet with pianist Hans Chew, who bangs out rollicking ragtimey patterns on a rickety upright. Rose has also situated his virtuoso playing in an ensemble context with the Black Twig Pickers; the group’s superb self-titled album for VHF focuses on old-timey classics, with his guitar accompanied by banjo, harmonica, a second guitar, and some rustic percussion (I’m pretty sure I hear a washboard in there).
Though Rose quit experimental drone-rock band Pelt, where he got his start in 1993, a few years back, he prolifically released solo acoustic recordings for much of the past decade. All too often, though, they were in tiny editions on tiny imprints, limiting their reach (a good number are available as downloads, but that principally benefits people who already know those recordings exist). Adding to the tragedy of his death is the fact that Thrill Jockey Records had already announced plans to release Rose’s Luck in the Valley, cut with the Black Twig Pickers and other guests, in February 2010—it will certainly stand as his highest-profile album. A Rose record with guitarist D. Charles Speer is slated for April, also on Thrill Jockey.
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