A full seven years after his first album, Arkansas native Christopher Denny climbs back into the driver's seat with If the Roses Don't Kill Us, a finely crafted country narrative full of hard living, pain, and redemption that bears the unique distinction of coming across as authentic. Yes, these are the foundations country music was built on, but unlike so many contemporary artists romanticizing their self-inflicted downward spirals in search of an image, Denny's life has actually played out like a country song. Born and raised in Little Rock, a rough home life eventually led to him being adopted by his aunt and uncle at the age of 12. His grandfather taught him guitar and introduced him to Lefty Frizzell, an influence that resonates throughout his two albums. Years of anger, alcohol abuse, a failed marriage, and eventually sobriety marked the rocky road between his 2007 debut, Age Old Hunger, and this excellent follow-up. With an animated high-tenor voice that falls somewhere between Roy Orbison's romantic croon and mid-century folk balladeer John Jacob Niles' otherworldly warble, Denny stands alone in the field of contemporary singers, be they country, folk, indie, or otherwise. It is decidedly untrendy and, off-putting as it may be to some listeners, strangely natural. Musically, the 12 songs on Roses are a varied bunch, from the whimsical singalong opener "Happy Sad" to the gospel-tinged "Million Little Thoughts" to the country-soul of "Love Is a Code Word," all played with a sort of straightforward, 1950s charm. He lets you into his world through personal, poignant, and often playful lyrics, but there is something of an old-fashioned entertainer in how he handles himself, delivering lines with the easy self-confidence of a latter-day Gene Pitney. In spite of all this, Roses can't easily be classified as some sort of nostalgic throwback album. The acoustic guitar, banjo, and fiddles are met with a horn section and even synth parts, all backed by a versatile rhythm section. The lyrical themes of struggle and affirmation are timeless and universal and, more than anything, Denny's odd voice and warm demeanor set him apart from the pack, making this a triumphant return to recording.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger