Esther Rose – How Many Times (Album 2021)
One of last year’s best singer / songwriter albums was, in my opinion, «Old Flowers» by Courtney Marie Andrews. On «Old Flowers», Andrews describes love grief, loneliness and finding the way forward. «Old Flowers» is unpolished, intimate and skinless. I perceived «Old Flowers» as a balanced record, about how to move on in life after a breakup, and also in a way a tribute to the ex.
Esther Rose’s new album, «How Many Times», is thematically close to Courtney Marie Andrews’. Here, too, there is a break-up that must be dealt with. And here too the songs are written as a catharsis. Andrews is probably most concerned with the relationship behind her, Rose is equally concerned that she is not ready for new relationships yet, that the separation process takes time. Everyone knows that a broken relationship has at least two sides, so she chose songs for the album that are not bitter and that are also about how she herself can become a better partner in a relationship, she says. Then the more one-sided songs is left out. Esther admits that she can be difficult to live with. This is never clearer than in the lyrics of the traditional and beautiful song «My Bad Mood». Listen to how the gorgeous instruments elevate this song in a wonderful interplay!
While Courtney Marie Andrews had moved a bit away from the hardcore country and moved into a singer / songwriter landscape that on many songs – not all – rested heavily on the piano, Esther Roses is safely placed within the country’s framework. Although I’m pretty genre blind, this time I do not feel the need to hide behind the Americana label. In a conversation with the blog Holler Country, Esther also leaves no doubt: «That is what makes this album a country album,» she explains. «It’s not just about feeling better, it’s about feeling it, whatever it is.»
Matt Bell’s pedal steel is absolutely central to the soundscape. It follows Esther’s voice and mood; it cries, it is melancholy. Lyle Werner’s fiddle is also central to the mood on the album when it starts several songs or takes over for the pedal steel. Listen to «Are You Out There»! Of course, the guitars and bass are also important, and sometimes and the careful drumming as well. Wonderfully produced!
Esther Rose is from Louisiana in the USA and is in her early thirties. «How Many Times» is her third album. She has a background as a member of the band of Luke Winslow-King and was also married to him from 2013 to 2015. She has opened for Nick Lowe and been asked to contribute to Jack White’s latest album.
I am very fond of country music, but at the same time there is a lot of presumably good country that does not hit me. Ester Roses’ new album hits! It is really unnecessary to reach out for individual songs. Several of the songs are really catchy in a clever way, take you on musical excursions that capture so much. Listen to «Mountaintop», a seemingly completely traditional melody that is still so much more than just that, where it takes new directions that are experienced as both natural and surprising at the same time! it is also impressive how many words Esther sings effortlessly during some songs.
Then I just move back to the beginning of the album and to the opening song «How Many Times», a song Esther tells is suitable for listening with headphones while walking. The song is about the pain that lies in the fact that all the good that has been, is no longer there. About facing the pain, processing it, before the memories can be good. After «How Many Times?» the pace picks up, Esther calls «Keeps Me Running» a sprinter. Thematically, we are about the same place as the previous song on the album. About processing the breakup before she is ready for a new relationship. The song starts with Lyle Werner’ fiddle before the wonderful guitars take over. Neither on the song «When You Go», it sounds like Esther is completely ready for new adventures. She dwells humorously on the ex: «Please take me with you, when you go». Another one of those tradituonal country songs that just sounds so incredibly delicious. And never has a pedal steel been more expressive?
I must, of course, write a few words about Esther Rose’s voice. It is located in the upper layer, a bit girlish, but with a lot of strength and variations. Conveys different emotions. As an example, «Coyote Creek,» one of those songs where I like the verses better than the chorus.
«Songs Remain» is the album’s beautiful break towards the middle of the album. A beautiful and calm song, just Esther and acoustic guitars. Since I have compared a lot with the album «Old Flowers» by Courtnety Marie Andrews, I think it was appropriate to put on that record again. And it is possible to say that I have taken the comparison too far. Although intense is a key word in Rose’ album as well, it is not intense and skinless in the same way as Andrews’ record. With the exception of «Songs Remain», Rose’s tempo is generally higher, far fewer ballads, and musically this is not as naked.
Finally we get the song «Without You». Another one of these nice and original songs within a fairly traditional setting. The first song that was written for the album and a song that that is summing it all up:
“Cause now you’re out of sight, on your own
I’m a cloud caught in the wind
Don’t let this be the end
How can I start again, without you”
“How Many Times” by Esther Rose is definitely one of my favourite records from 2021.