NetRhythms (UK) review of "Roses Guide To Time Travel" by Mike Davies
- "A good year for the Roses"
NetRhythms (UK) ~ Mike Davies ~ April 2010
There's no explanation in the press release as to why there's been six years between the Oklaholma singer-songwriter's debut and her apostrophe-challenged sophomore album, so just be grateful that it's finally here. Featuring contributions from such musicians as Danny Barnes, Gavin Sutherland and Stacy Phillips, as before, it's a desert dust coated brew of bluegrass, folk, honky tonk, blues and country in service of songs about small towns, trains, highways, drifters, loving and losing, leaving and hanging in as, per the title, years pass by.
With a voice somewhere between Nanci Griffith, Judy Collins and the young Lucinda Williams, she opens the album with arguably its strongest song, the weary waltzing, concertina and banjo flecked All The Pretty Americans, an Obama dawn lament for a country's loss of innocence and a hope for its awakening from its sleep. While the focus may be micro rather than macro, it's a similar theme that informs the album's second standout and catchiest chorus, the penultimate Glory Days, a song about a faded rock star still clinging to memories of the past and hoping for a revival of his fortunes, even though 'songs that used to run now can barely walk'. Ringing a personal note, drawled and streaked with hillbilly blues and slide guitar, Last Town On The Line stems from the discovery that her grandfather was a trainman working the Missouri-Pacific line, and sets her to wondering if he might have encountered Woody Guthrie riding one of the box cars.
Guthrie's invoked again on No Goodbyes, a tale a verse song about a Kerouac highway odyssey, a senorita shooting her cheating lover and a young man heading out to find fame with his guitar. Death rears its head too in The Ground She Walks On, a folk blues Southern gothic murder ballad ghost story that apparently began life as a tribute to her parents' enduring love. Such are the strange tangents the creative mind can take.
Innocence and experience loom large. The first stirrings of a relationship form the heart of the bluegrassy Desert Song where, to Barnes' banjo backing, the singer and her new beau go dancing down town as, giddy from his flaming gaze, she wonders 'what will go down'. That's followed immediately by the sprightly hillbilly Looks Like Rain where, with what could be the same couple some years later, she observes that the summer's gone and the storm's bearing down fast. "I want to take off running" she sings, and, as she writes on the thumbnail sleevenotes, themes of escape and redemption are also woven into the sonorous desert blues New Train and the fairground waltzing paean to Portland.
All this and, in the line about how 'a hummingbird has to drink a thousand times a day' amid the romance metaphors of the bluesily soulful Sweet Honey, a lesson in natural history too. A good year for the Roses, then.