On her previous releases Esther Rose perfected a cool yet catchy sound through a sweet combination of light pedal steel, fiddle, soft vocals and vintage Americana production. On her new album ‘Safe to Run’ she continues this aesthetic, while also expanding her horizons – her newly blonde hair and a change of location from New Orleans to Santa Fe perhaps inspiring a new sense of artistic looseness and freedom.
We begin with ‘Stay’ which questions those who stay where they probably don’t belong, in the safe place, waiting on their dreams. Stay if you want to, she concludes, a note to self and others.
As part of this journey of self-understanding ‘Chet Baker’ has Rose looking back into a hazy dream of youth, full of pills and car crashes – leaving her trying to understand how she even survived.
One of her influences is Hank Williams (who she covered on her My Favourite Mistakes EP), so it is fitting she begins Spider with ‘I’m searching for three chords and the truth.’ The song is a thoughtful strum where she wistfully contemplates a tempestuous relationship. The video features a quite brutal cage fighting match, the contrast between the gentle music and the extreme testosterone perhaps a sign of what the relationship was like. What is love without a little stress? She asks, heavy on the irony.
One of the highlights of the album is the gorgeous ‘Safe to Run’ featuring Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, both veterans of the New Orleans scene. The song puts her own personal struggles in the context of the problems faced by the world around her, trying to find a sense of acceptance amongst the chaos.
‘I don’t have a plan, it’s true/ Just to spend a little time with you / maybe write a song or two,’ she sings on New Magic II, and that relaxed simplicity shines through even though you imagine it takes a lot of effort to sound this effortless.
And even though the music is laid back, that doesn’t mean the album is without its lyrically cutting moments, as on ‘Dream Girl’ which takes on the sexism of the music industry.
‘Levee Song’ adds some more beats, pushing the sound out of her comfort zone into more indie rock spheres, which makes sense considering she acknowledged in a recent interview how ‘obsessed’ she has been recently by Phoebe Bridgers.
Another influence is John Prine, and his kind of lyrical irreverence is apparent on ‘Arm’s Length’ which finishes the album with a raised eyebrow and a smile. Not taking yourself too seriously while contemplating the big issues of life is what John did best and I’m sure he’s smiling down, nodding his head along to this one.
Safe to Run is a stylish and sensitive album, evidence of a great artist finding comfort and strength in embracing life’s uncertainties.
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