There’s something remarkable about relative newcomer Caroline Rose’s powerhouse stage presence: it’s not entirely clear that she realizes people are beginning to listen, but it’s pretty clear that it wouldn’t really matter much if they weren’t. Crowds are beginning to grow, and as you look around the room, fans are starting to mouth verses. And if she continues to churn out 45-minute barnburners like her opening spot for Pokey LeFarge at World Live Cafe on May 1, she’s not going to be wondering if she’s singing to herself much longer.
A relaxed and talkative Rose, backed by a tight three-piece band featuring the excellent pedal steel work of Brett Lanier, sprinkled several new tunes throughout a set mostly filled with songs from her excellent 2013 debut I Will Not Be Afraid. “Bad Feeling” had a definite Runaways bounce and snarl. It was backed up by another new song “You’re Going to Fall in Love,” which had Rose channeling Lucinda Williams.
Based on these two songs alone, Rose’s second album, which she is still putting together, looks to simultaneously further define and blow up her sound.
Consistent play from the Sirius/XM channel Jam On and some fleeting interest from WXPN and Scott Simon at NPR have given Rose a bit of spotlight in her first year and a half in the music scene. But just that paring tells how difficult it’s proven to be to classify Rose’s sound and talent.
One of 2013’s most criminally overlooked albums, I Will Not Be Afraid, is like the grandchild of Joni Mitchell’s Blue and the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan passed through The Texas Campfire Tapes. With free verse lyrics that cascade over sometimes dissonant chords and sometimes beautiful melodies, Rose’s debut is bursting with America seen from a van window a decade and a half into the millienium.
There are still moments on the album where there’s a need for a firm editing hand, but try to think of the debut albums that don’t need that. From stage, Rose talked about the need to daily flex her ‘courage muscle,’ and it’s clear the pushing of traditional popular song structures in her debut album are the artifacts of that workout.
At the World Live Cafe, Rose seemed equally happy playing gritty surf chords on her Telecaster as hitting a high, extended note near the end “Goodbye May”–a moment that stopped the drink orders in the half-full room and brought all eyes to the young woman on stage in the white socks and red sneakers.
Fascinatingly, we now have a whole new generation of artists who’ve lived completely without the shackles of the record industry and who are hell bent to do what their muse and their audience tells them. As record sales have vanished and artists now incessantly tour as their primary source of income, Caroline Rose’s talent and boundless approach to art-making give her a chance to separate herself from the pack
With any luck, Rose will get some invites into the festival scene when the current supporting run for LeFarge ends this spring, because with those side-stage crowds, word of mouth will quickly grow. If the World Café Live teaser set is any indication, it should be fascinating to see it all unfold.