Luck in the Valley is the third part of guitarist Jack Rose's self-deprecatingly and humorously referenced “Ditch Trilogy,” which began with Dr. Ragtime & Pals in 2008 and continued with Jack Rose & the Black Twig Pickers in 2009. It was finished shortly before his untimely death in December of 2009. Like the previous two recordings, this set explores prewar American music, from blues and folk styles to rags and early bluegrass. Rose uses the Pickers -- Glenn Jones, Harmonica Dan, and Hans Chew -- on most of this set, and performs solo as well. Rose was in an unusually creative period (even for him) recording this, learning and introducing new techniques into his playing, and it’s all readily apparent here. The title refers to code used for procurement in the red-light district in old St. Louis; it’s a humorous reference he grabbed from a record’s liner notes. The opening track, “Blues for Percy Danforth,” is named for the famous hardwood bones player. It begins in classical Indian raga style, with an unusual tuning and plenty of drone notes before Rose kicks it into gear a bit with his newer fingerpicking style that is fluid and spacious, but also direct, finding its way toward the middle strings as the point of a return path. He’s accompanied skeletally by a jaw harp and harmonica. The title track is a meld of rag, droning blues, and a breakdown. “Lick Mountain Ramble” is full-on Eastern-sounding bluegrass with fiddles, mouth harp, and percussion replacing banjos and mandolins. Rose rides through modes flipping the rhythms with his strumming and quick fingerpicking runs. There are three covers on the set as well: a languid, late-night barrelhouse version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues”; a sprightly reading of Blind Blake's rag “West Coast Blues,” with beautiful interaction between guitar and banjo; and the moving, jumping country gospel blues “Everybody Ought to Pray Sometimes” by Dennis Crumpton and Robert Summers. This set was a fine step forward for Rose, but after the record ends, the listener is left with the painful awareness of what his loss means to music fans in general and folk music fans in particular.
Luck in the Valley Review
by Thom Jurek
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