A saucy mixture of applejack and grenadine, a cocktail known as the "Jack Rose" famously made its way down the throats of high-falutin' literary types in the 1920s. But the name is also the handle for a tall drink of a guitarist, a seasoned musician who fingerpicks together scratches of bluegrass, country blues, ragtime, drone and raga.
Jack Rose's clarity of approach, fully present in every recording, distinguishes his intrepid "primitive guitar" techniques from Jim O'Rourke's soft-served, ramshackle Americana or the ornate chamber pieces of British guitarist James Blackshaw. Twelve open-tuned strings rustle about in seeming abandon, yet each overlapping pluck reveals another coordinate plotted within this unique geometry of sound. While trained ears follow textbook technique to connect the dots, the self-taught Rose merely follows his gut. He stipples notes on top of notes in a kind of organic musical pointillism, layering textures between the rhythms with astonishing grace.
Questions about where he learned such tricks need only one word of response: Pelt. In 1993, this experimental noise-folk/drone outfit began mining the world music that lay beyond its hometown of Richmond, Va. Testing the patience of so-called "revivalists" everywhere, Pelt pawed over folk's keepsakes and throwaways, using washboards, bow saws, hurdy-gurdies, dobros, concertinas, tanpuras and other noisemakers you'll never find at Guitar Center.
Rose took to finger-picking twelve steel strings, and upon relocating to Philadelphia, he embarked on a solo recording career that has since yielded stunning documents of his astonishing instrumental intuition. Red Horse, White Mule plays like a dirt-road vision quest for the ghosts of John Fahey and Sandy Bull, while 2004's Raag Manifestos transmits frequencies in vociferous six- and twelve-string dialects, occasioning on some electronic slang and punctuated tabla beats as it proceeds on a psychedelic, reverse-Westernization of traditional folk melodies.
Rose soon developed a new approach while on tour, begetting 2005's Kensington Blues, a live first-take recording of folk influence cross-pollinated with Rose's natural impulse for experimentalism. Meanwhile, Dr. Ragtime & Pals is ragtime reborn as minimalism burling with energy. The record moseys through the banjo boogie of "Miss May's Place" before chooglin' along to "Linden Ave. Stomp," were Rose finger-picks a front-porch fret-for-all.
For good measure, Beautiful Happiness Records is releasing Dr. Ragtime & Pals alongside a preservation act of earlier hard-to-finds titled, simply enough, Jack Rose. Plainly concocted by nothing more than a man and his guitar, this collection's ingredients are as basic as brandy and liqueur, yet they make for a "Jack Rose" that's impossible to reproduce.
Woodlab featuring Jack Rose, D. Charles Speer and The Helix and Pairdown. 8 p.m. Wed., April 30. ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. $7. 412-362-0274 or www.modernformations.com
- Moment of clarity: Jack Rose