Brian Rose - Album Review

Language, December 1994
By Hugo Westerlund

"So I have this friend Brian, and he's a photographer, and he said to me one night that he felt that he saw his life as though he were seeing it through a pane of glass, so that he felt that he was always witnessing things and never really involved in them. Which I thought was interesting. So the next morning when I was having breakfast at Tom's Diner, I was thinking to myself, how would Brian see this situation?"

Brian was Suzanne's big hero back in the early years of her career. He was five years older; a folk singer and photographer of some renown. In the summer of 1980 he was free lance and Suzanne was unemployed, which to her seemed like the same thing -- they were boulevardiers, and would 'sit in the cafe / and eat and drink and talk all day / and watch the sun.' And as a game, they wrote songs with medieval imagery, and out of this grew the Queen and the Soldier series.

We drink the wine
if we get it free
and if he buys you coffee
he can surely buy some for me
and one day we will work real hard
and get a job
and not just sit here
on this silly boulevard.
And everyone will know our name
and we'll be rich
or we'll at least have
some kind of fame.
We'll be brave,
we'll be bold,
we'll come riding through
like knights of old.

Suzanne Vega

A couple of years later, Suzanne wrote Tom's Diner. She was the one who eventually got really famous, but she didn't forget her old friend Brian. In 1991, she produced his debut album, simply titled Brian Rose.

There is a slight similarity between the two songwriters -- both tend to write about mundane things in a way that transforms them into something universal. Both use language with great skill and economy. A good example is Open All Night, a diner song written 1982, just like Suzanne's -- here is an excerpt:

she wipes the counter
and she sweeps the floor
she makes the coffee
and she asks you do you want some more

she looks in the eye of a desperate man
she can't say much but she can understand
another aimless loner
another brittle voice
another ghostly goner
head in his hands
open all night

Brian Rose is a keen observer and his empathy for the people his songs is obvious. There is also a touch of humor that opens new dimensions.

From the roof there is splendor, a city in the sky
Lost to the sky-light's dull-witted eye
As she plants her feet on the concrete sod
She says to her husband, "We are closer to God."

Suzanne is executive producer for the whole album, and she has also produced four of the eleven songs -- the other songs were produced by Brian Rose himself. Suzanne has brought in her band and created an fuller and more interesting sound picture without diverting too much from Rose's own style. There is a very close connection between lyrics and music -- a happy combination of folk and more contemporary arrangements.

Suzanne has also contributed background vocals on most of the songs -- and this alone is reason enough to buy the album. Her angelic voice and perfect harmonies lift the songs and make you warm inside -- she is absolutely unparalleled.

Brian Rose is an excellent exponent of the contemporary New York folk scene, and his late debut album has almost the quality of a best of album. These are songs that have stood the test of time.

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