Issue #133: Gotta Be Gold by The Sally Rose Band
October 1, 2018
Released On October 30, 2015
Released By Country Wide music
“Here, honey, have a beer,” she said, red nails gripping a sweating can of PBR. We were standing in the strange kitchen of a familiar friend, someone I’d always drink and laugh and joke with at the bar, but to whose house I’d never ventured. Hazy from the last “last call” that comes after the lights shine out on the friends of the bartender, someone who’ll let you finish your whiskey while he counts out the register, we had stumbled back to this living room teetering with amps and guitars, a drum kit piled in the corner. Hours earlier in the dark familiarity of the bar I call home, this woman had shone out, sweet self-confidence radiating off her smiling, sometimes quiet observation of the locals at play. At home anywhere, it seemed, she seamlessly melded into the fabric of the night, so easily and unobtrusively herself that at 4 AM I couldn’t help but feel at home in her aura even though I didn’t know her last name. Sipping beer and sharing cigarettes out on that porch, night slipped into day, and we went off home with only her first name held fast in my mind.
Only upon waking later that day did I realize who she was. “I play in a band,” she’d said, her even tones suggesting the kind of vocals that could power through a microphone. Nowhere in this night had she bragged on what she can do; no time was spent on her dragging through a repertoire or resume of sound, but oh lord did I get to know this woman better once I heard her sing. Sally Rose, welcoming and steadfast in that night, is an absolute powerhouse of a woman.
Listening to her sing and play on Gotta Be Gold, the inkling of her confidence and power I’d been privy to late at night was amplified. There’s an uncompromising homage to all she holds dear in those pin curls, glasses, and set of her mouth that translates straight into her exuberant music. Blending a roots-level country feel into the jangly, unhurried, indie pop of the album, Rose manages to hold up a mirror to her mouth, interpreting all she loves out to us with undeniable influences colored by a spirit undeniably her own.
On “Polyps,” the opening track of the album, Rose sings delicately over heavy-handed drums, aggressive guitar held in check until the first chorus. A slightly discordant progression builds under vocals lilting against the tide, breaks in guitar seemingly coincidental over this woman just ringing out with the sheer joy of singing. “We’re opposites, we’re opposite, but together we’re everything,” she croons on the ironically named track. That slight disconcertion reminiscent of the ’90s pulls up strong on the title track “Gotta Be Gold.” What was promised in the first few minutes reigns strong in this track, with a foot-tapping drive in the verses happily plateaued in the falsetto chorus before waving into a break of pared down fuzzy guitar, the song cresting with a shimmering return to the catchy repetition of the title.
Sun-drenched and gritty, upbeat in flaying open desires and set-backs, you can smell the dirt on the album, feel the heat emanating from its skin. I might’ve met the woman before the music, but I can read this woman all over these tracks, and it’s a friend you’re gonna wanna make.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Ferocious rock & roll artiste armed with a vitalizing sound & imploring message.
Sally Rose’s music and the essence of how Gotta Be Gold plays out, feel distinctly local. It’s like the band wants you to think of how they sound live in crowded room — perhaps in a subconscious attempt to hype up anticipation around shows. The recording is clean, is bounced to a good playback volume and, sensibly so, Rose’s vocals are meant to be the feature at the forefront. The lyrics are quirky (“I am yin and baby you’re yang / We’re opposites, we’re opposites / but together we are everything”) and despite often sounding blues inclined, Rose hits a pleasantly surprising country-tinged note with bass and electric (!!!) fiddle-fueled “Do Ra De.” Simultaneously however, throughout the album, there persists this almost indescribable extra quality about the overall body of work, which exudes an impression of DIY effort with untapped project potential. That’s not to say what’s here presents anything that sounds bad — quite the opposite. It’s just, when the style of your songwriting and style of your singing comes with so much improvisational, fluid, bluesy, spunky, and assertive character, the fully assembled tracks practically beg for a bit more tonal coloration in the mixing and producing stages. Rose knows how to transition from loud to soft (“Polyps“), staccato to legato (“Stix And Stones“), and dainty to dirty (“Do Re Da” to “Wave Of Roses“) but, somehow her voice seems left to just be itself; mostly un-adorned beyond some basic reverb and occasionally higher-than-average delay. The combination of strong drum fills and bent guitar note transitions make for a good old-fashioned rock and roll foundation (sprinkled with uncommon ingredients in the form of low-end cello and falsetto harmony vocals) and it’s hard to imagine tracks connectable to that and other classic genres keeping vocalists in their purely initial form, if for no other reason than the artistic possibilities, as opposed to reasons focused on objective musical correction (read: Auto-Tune). Original rock and roll that is more dance-focused and less dynamically power driven isn’t as common nowadays and its pursuit should be cherished. The Sally Rose Band clearly has a passion and a talent for it when they all play together. I just think that as opposed to live on stage, on studio cuts, when a band can really get sonically creative, the enthusiasm of a singer like Sally Rose can and should handle a little more ornamentation to at least match what she’s shown to be capable of delivering on her own. Then when folks from the band’s hometown of Charlottesville go to see them live, the effects can fall away and Rose can make up for it in spades with all her naturally given energy and personality.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
The second semester of my senior year of high school, I met K. Like me, she had recently moved to Southern California, and found herself without enough PE credits to graduate. As the only two upperclassmen with no interest or talent in using organized sports to get out of the class, we immediately bonded. I’m positive I gave her my entire life story within five minutes of meeting, as was my custom at the time, but instead of being overwhelmed by my painfully obviously (but undiagnosed at the time) autistic self, she seemed to find me delightful. She let me talk endlessly about the music I loved and the books I had practically memorized, and never made me feel like she found my Special Interests boring or an imposition, like so many of my other friends at the time seemed to do. We were not friends for very long before I started talking her into taking me to shows. Often housed in tiny, shitty venues that would end up condemned only a year or two later, I’d pay the $5 for her ticket (or talk our way onto the guest list) and we’d spend several hours on a Friday or Saturday night (often both) dancing our asses off to bands we’d never heard of before that night. I started listening to Gotta Be Gold last week, and within seconds I was back in the smoky as hell Showcase Theatre in Corona with K at my side in her white tank top and blue and white houndstooth pants. I’m sure you remember, but the mid-late ’90s had a metric fuckton of third wave/swing/alt-country/psychedelic jam sort of bands, and without sounding like any one band I already know, The Sally Rose Band manages to feel homey and familiar, tapping into a nostalgia for the music of that time that I didn’t even know I was holding onto. I held an entire imaginary “”what if” sort of show in my head while listening to this album on repeat all week. What if our 17 year old selves had been surprised by this gem? “Polyps” and “Do Ra De” would have definitely been the songs to grab our attention. “Stix And Stones” would absolutely have been the song that had us singing along after only hearing the chorus the first time (and also had us running to the merch table after the set to buy the CD). I also decided that “Pop My Balloon” was the song they didn’t perform that we only discovered in the car on the way home. With the volume turned all the way up and the windows rolled all the way down, hitting the back button over and over until we knew all the words, our voices hoarse from too many cigarettes and shouting over the music all night, our clothes stiff with the sweat from dancing crushed up against too many other people. It makes me grin hugely to think of this. Big thanks to to Sally Rose for this lovely little scene I might never have seen if it hadn’t been for Gotta Be Gold.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
Who decides? Who elevates, selects, elects, and propels musicians to, if not stardom, at least wide recognition? Take Lucy Dacus — a favorite of many of my colleagues at this fine publication — and a very talented singer-songwriter. The New York Times has been writing about her for over two years, starting with a small take in 2016 and including a full profile earlier this year and an even more recent article about her band with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. This and other great publicity has led to no small success, with over a million followers on Spotify and songs regularly breaking a million streams. And she’s fine — but is she better than Sally Rose, whose excellent Gotta Be Gold has been out since 2015 and not one track has broken 1,000 streams? The title track alone should have been a hit, with an urgent, singalong chorus, some boldly angular guitar, a little cello (played by her mom!) to add distinction, and phenomenal singing throughout. “Pop My Balloon” is just as catchy, with a steady, stomping rhythm and a smoky hook when she sings “Baby, I’m the one for you.” The final song, “Tired,” sung with Erin Lunsford, is an a cappella stunner, a soul-gospel hymn that will have your jaw on the floor. And everyone can relate to its opening lines: “Some days are easier than others / Some days you wake up with a little less steam / Some days you feel light and lifted / Oh, and some days you can barely get to your feet.” You’ll be on your feet, cheering, before the song is over! Is it a lack of promotional muscle? Does Dacus have a better story? It can’t be looks — not that it should matter in any reality — but Sally Rose is a knockout blonde whose style leans in the direction of burlesque. Is there only room for a few people to get wide attention? So names I see everywhere, like Julien Baker, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, Phoebe Bridgers, Lindsay Jordan (Snail Mail), Sophie Allison (Soccer Mommy) — that’s actually a lot of people! — get a bit of the spotlight, but there’s no place for Rose and her killer band? Well, I guess that’s what Off Your Radar is for and I’m hoping this issue moves the needle for Sally Rose, popping her clean out of the “regional artist” bind she finds herself in. Her big voice is going to bring the Blue Ridge Mountains down on Charlottesville, VA if she doesn’t break out soon.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
Sonically shimmering brighter than any aurelian backdrop ever could.
I feel like this is such a great pick amidst our current social and political climate. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get political on OYR. I just feel like Sally Rose sort of embodies the movement of strong(er) female voices we’ve been hearing over the past couple years. She rocks. Not, “she rocks… for a girl.” She just rocks in the same powerful, no nonsense way that predecessors like Bonnie Raitt do. I really enjoyed “Tired,” which lets us totally feel the raw power of Rose’s voice. It’s a bold choice to sing an entire tune a cappella, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it. I also dug the self-deprecating “Pop My Balloon.” It’s a really interesting record because of the twist at the end of the chorus. The verses are built to tear down some poor schmuck, from the way he looks, to the way he smells, to the way he plays guitar. But after all that, Rose proclaims “you make me blue, baby, I’m the one for you.” It’s true, you can’t control who you’re attracted to, and I think it’s really cool to hear a story about slumming it from a woman’s perspective.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
It’s a smokey room, which is odd because in 2018 few rooms are smokey unless the performer appearing ordered it so. Up on the stage, there is a single young girl with her acoustic guitar sitting on a stool. She’s wearing a nondescript black tank top which could either mean she didn’t care to dress up or that she cared very much and this is what she chose — to appear as though she didn’t. It’s difficult to tell in this scene. She begins to speak as she has before each of her previous four songs. She describes her motivation — reveals the story behind the song (just in case the song itself doesn’t accurately convey the depth of her sorrow). She does this before every song she’s written for the duration of the show. It’s less song performance than an hour-long opportunity for her to involve the room in her personal, banal coming of age story. She speaks as though nobody in the room has ever felt heartbreak or the desire to love. So unsure is she that anyone is familiar with the depth of the themes she’s addressing, that she poses the question to the audience: Has anyone out there ever loved a boy? A few squeals from centre-left but mostly the silent but visible wave of rolling eyes. She proceeds to sing a song about boys — maybe you’ve met a boy? The problem is not the theme, of course, but the pretense and overwrought drama with which she presents it. Loving boys is apparently sometimes unfulfilling, maybe even emotionally challenging. Something about a movie theatre and a picture frame and a kiss which felt cold and unfulfilled. Nobody cares except, I imagine, her mom. Probably the same mom who heard this song and encouraged her daughter to perform it for the public. I bet her mom didn’t suggest over-annunciated, excessive staccato, and inserting a “y” syllable into words where no “y” exists. I bet nobody trained her in elongating and belabouring every sentiment with a gaze into nowhere like she’s singing to a secondary audience that exists hidden to the naked eye, just over the audience’s heads. I leave after four songs, start my car, and sigh longingly. I remember this week’s album — 2015’s The Sally Rose Band, Gotta Be Gold. I go in skeptical — Sally, you’ve gotta be gold because if that performer was the state of modern female indie singer-songwriters, I am longing for something redemptive. Charlottesville is apparently also after some redemption and I am not disappointed. As I drive home, Sally Rose and her band deliver. Somewhere between the folk-pop and rock sensibility and the mercifully indie-girl-voice-free singing style, Sally Rose is just honest, straight-forward, and relatable. She’s direct and satisfying. The guitars wallow in just enough reverb to suggest surf rock and introspection. “Pop My Balloon” bounces in and out of melancholy and celebration. “You make me blue” but “Baby, I’m the one for you.” It’s simple — it’s believable and at no point does Sally Rose suggest aloofly that maybe she’s alone here. “Do Ra De” plods through an unexpected fiddle and boxcar rhythm about walking all night side by side. It’s perfect. It’s everything. Maybe one day that original performer will find her way to making an eight track LP full of well-crafted and relatable songs that don’t need monologues. Maybe one days she’ll be a Sally Rose. Maybe one day she’ll realize that emotions are something we share, not something we need to be educated about. Until then, we’ve got Sally Rose herself.
Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage
SRB’s Gotta Be Gold follows in a long line of songwriters using the highly valuable metal as The Ideal. Sometimes it’s something to strive or hope for, despite being unattainable. Stevie Wonder’s “Stay Gold” ends with him boiling down existence to that essential fact: “All things that happen / Will age too old / Though, gold”. Sometimes the gold in question is one’s life, as on Run The Jewels’ “Stay Gold”: both El and Mike found the perfect woman for them, and they’re so happy in general that they “can’t stop high-fiving.” Mike also uses gold as The Standard for rapping, comparing his to the impossibly great starting pitcher lineup from the mid-’90s Braves. Vinyl Theatre’s “Gold” observes that many people “exist just to live” and that there should be more to life than simply being. In the chorus, singer Keegan Calmes declares that he found his gold, and his soul is overjoyed as a result. “Golden Slumbers” by The Beatles is a bittersweet lullaby in its depiction of a dream’s ability to refresh. Of course, the adage “heart of gold” has been used by many to describe the purest of the pure, including Neil Young’s and Birdy’s titular songs. In the case of Gotta Be Gold’s title track, it seems to be Sally Rose reflecting on her love life. She’s tired of being jerked around and having her time wasted. I don’t know if it’s entirely clear what gold is here. It might be finding the right (perfect?) partner, and, furthermore, maybe that partner is yourself. If that’s the case, perhaps being gold is simply being content.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
On stage & through speakers, Sally Rose yields a commanding presence that lets her effortlessly shift through rock’s various lenses.
Since Thursday, I’ve been driving the family around New England in a rented Jeep Compass that’s home to a somewhat confounding speaker system. It’s not just that songs seem muffled; it’s as if the sound is distributed too evenly, like the door handles have been soaking in as much of Gotta Be Gold as my ears have. Maybe it’s all in my head. Or maybe it’s just engine noise. But one song has been cutting through the clutter with crystal clarity: closing track “Tired.” The first time I heard it, I assumed the accompaniment was getting trapped in the back seat or something. But the vocals were so stunning I kept coming back to it, and I was thrilled to find it really was recorded a cappella. I’m currently knee-deep in an obsession with the new Mountain Man album, Magic Ship, so I’ve been spending more than my fair share of time with similar arrangements. But where Mountain Man’s brand of brilliance lies in blurring the line between a song and a spontaneous musical moment between friends, Sally Rose and Erin Lunsford combine forces to turn in the kind of turned-up-to-11 performance that elevates the art of singing beyond the delivery of lyrics and melody and into the realm of grandeur. This is Adele-grade stuff, as pure and potent as it comes, with a message to match in terms of directness. “Tired” isn’t a rallying cry. It’s not asking anything of you. It simply describes a feeling and gives you space to feel okay about feeling the same way. I’d call it the perfect benediction for the moment our nation is sharing right now, and I sincerely hope the people who need it most get to hear it. Just not in a Jeep Compass.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
Usually, albums we listen to for this publication fall into one of two categories: 1) Sounds old, but is new and 2) Sounds current but is quite old. This striking album by The Sally Rose Band checks both boxes and moves on before anyone can tell it that that’s against the rules. Probably the most striking thing about this album is what it manages to accomplish in a mere 26 minutes. Other albums would take twice as long to go to all the different sonic high points that this album visits in such a short amount of time. The common thread is the amazing voice of Ms. Rose herself. It’s powerful, but never loses its character. I believe you could identify her from a lineup of similar acts because of how distinct her voice is. She accomplishes the goal that I imagine most musicians are aiming for: She sounds powerful and accomplished and masterfully trained, but she comes off as someone who has just decided to give this “singing into a mic” thing a try. She has a powerful voice, but you don’t get the impression that she’s breaking much of a sweat delivering these magical vocal takes. I also loved the fiddle that would occasionally crop up, and the wailing electric guitar that trades off lines with the fiddle. Every track is fantastic and I marvel at how everyone involved in its creation pulled off this amazing accomplishment.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
Not even a thesaurus can contain enough kind words to lay at Sally Rose’s feet. In any sense of the phrase “rock & roll,” she’s brilliant, operating so precisely that she makes the ambiguity of rock music endearing. Defiantly fiery at one moment, meticulously intimate at another, she performs at a level of such dedication that you don’t just feel she believes every word — she believes every single note that’s thrust out of the amp in her music. But she’s also careful to never overshadow a crucial moment of a song, letting the words come out at pristine times (“Pop My Balloon“) or letting herself get obscured by a grungy haze (“Gotta Be Gold“). Listening to her record, the charm of the unknown plays out wonderfully, with the unexpected twists and turns of the music joining perfectly with the relative obscurity of the artist, something that will cause any judicious music lover to shake their head while listening. That unknown leads to a great deal of wonderful shock throughout the eight tracks. You’ll find yourself marveling at just how good her voice is, just how ingenious the songwriting is, just how brazen the style swaps are, and just how relatable the lyrics can get. As the shock wears thin though, the enjoyment and quality only thicken, revealing the true mettle of a spectacular album. Even stripped down to its bookends, you’d still be able to determine the quality of this record, as you find Sally Rose capable of shining in a song wholly encased within a thumping rhythm (“Polyps“) and a song with no rhythmic confines or borders at all (“Tired“). As I said in the beginning, there aren’t enough words to throw at this dynamic record, but there is certainly one singular phrase fitting enough to sum up the extent of Gotta Be Gold: Sally Rose is rock and roll.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Animals by TTNG
Chosen By Kira Grunenberg