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Brian Blade: Mama Rosa

John Kelman By

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After a lengthy gap between records with his Fellowship Band, drummer Brian Blade has stepped up the pace, following up the unmistakable sound of Season of Changes (Verve, 2008) with Mama Rosa. Blade temporarily deserts the folkloric jazz context of his longstanding group, instead delivering a singer/songwriter album that's just as compelling. Different in nature it may be, but in its own way it makes perfect sense for the introspective and deeply spiritual Blade.

Blade's always had a penchant for song, even when working in longer form for Fellowship. He closed Perceptual (Blue Note, 2000) with the gentle "Trembling,"—his debut as a singer—and invited Joni Mitchell to sing on the more dramatic "Steadfast." Both tracks drew a clear line from Blade's more expansive, jazz-centric writing and a penchant for simple melody and articulating his feelings with words as well as music.

Blade has grown considerably as a singer/songwriter since then, though the spirit of Mitchell—with whom Blade toured and recorded—looms large, especially on the opening title track, where his open-tuned guitar alludes to Mitchell's own open harmonies. Blade's subject material is far more religious in nature, however, though his faith is personal and far from proselytizing. Daniel Lanois—the well-known producer and singer/songwriter—plays a supporting instrumental role throughout half of Mama Rosa; his tremolo'd electric guitar a soothing, defining texture on the slightly more up-tempo "Mercy Angel," where he also delivers a moving, lyrical solo.

"At the Centerline" incorporates the enduring "Serenity Prayer" ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.") before Blade expands on its elegantly simple philosophy with a more complex song that, structurally, provides a strong link between the music of Mama Rosa and that of the Fellowship Band, as does the equally detailed yet smoothly flowing "Faithful Brother." Blade's unassuming and unaffected voice, with its subtle vibrato, brings passionate understatement to lyrics that deal with matters both corporeal and less grounded, always remaining truthful and honest to the core.

With guests including Fellowship's Jon Cowherd (keyboards), Chris Thomas (bass), and Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), there's enough harmonic sophistication, even on the relatively straightforward "Get There," to contextualize Blade's the singer/songwriter with Blade the jazz composer and improvising player. It's all part of one continuum, with Mama Rosa simply occupying a different place than Season of Changes or Perceptual.

After 11 calming, tender songs, Blade ends the album with two brief soundscapes, in collaboration with Adam Samuels and Tucker Martine. Celestial and ethereal, both "All Gospel Radio" and "Psalms 100" reflect, in pure sound, the same spirituality reflected in Blade's words throughout Mama Rosa—an album that may come as unexpected for some, but for those who have followed Blade's career closely, will come as no surprise at all.

Track Listing: After the Revival; Mercy Angel; At the Centerline; Faithful Brother; Get There; Second Home; You'll Always Be My Baby; Nature's Law; Struggling With That; All That Was Yesterday; Her Song; All Gospel Radio; Psalms 100.

Personnel: Brian Blade: lead vocals, guitar, piano (2, 5, 7, 11, 13), drums (2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11); Daniel Lanois: guitar soloist (2, 3, 7, 10, 11), pedal steel guitar (7); bass (2, 5), harmony vocal (11); Geoffrey Moore: guitar (1, 3), nylong string guitar (4); Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar (4); Greg Liesz: pedal steel guitar (6); lap steel guitar and weissenborn (9); Patrick Smith: pedal steel guitar (11); Jon Cowherd: piano (3, 4), pump organ (3); Aaron Embry: piano (1); Chris Thomas: bass (1, 3, 4, 6); Jenny Lee Lindberg: bass (9); Dave Coleman: MXR operator (9); Adam Samuels: processing (12, 13); Tucker Martine: processing (13); Kelly Jones: harmony vocals (2, 5, 10); Daryl Johnson: harmony vocal (7, 11); Silverlake Male Chorus (3): John Bigham, Daryl Johnson, Aaron Embry, Rocco Deluca.

Title: Mama Rosa | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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