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Paul Rodgers: Midnight Rose

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Paul Rodgers: Midnight Rose
It is a travesty that Paul Rodgers is not a household name. Despite considerable commercial success with English bluesrockers Free ("All Right Now") and Bad Company, plus his high-profile associations with Queen and guitarist Jimmy Page (in the band dubbed 'the Firm'), the British-Canadian vocalist, musician & songwriter remains a somewhat unsung figure in the annals of contemporary rock.

The rather short playing time of his sixth solo album—roughly thirty-two minutes—is something of a metaphor for the under-the-radar release of Midnight Rose. Issued without much fanfare late in the third quarter of 2023, greater pre-and post-release hoopla might well have been generated to benefit the stellar, deeply emotive singing of Rodgers. It is that component of the record which makes it worth hearing.

Then again, these eight, somewhat generic cuts do not warrant undue attention. However, the largely anonymous nature of the material and musicianship renders it of a piece with the much bally-hooed Bad Company (named after a 1972 western film starring Jeff Bridges, and also the first release on Led Zeppelin's Swan Song Records.) Bad Company consisted of Rodgers, his Free compatriot drummer Simon Kirke}, Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, and ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. Despite such eclectic pedigree, the quartet boasted a generally faceless sound, apart from its lead vocalist's expressive lead vocals.

Likewise, on Midnight Rose, "Coming Home" and "Photo Shooter" veer dangerously close to sound-paintings by numbers. Yet the wail of Paul Rodgers' voice on the latter belies the sound and fury of a track signifying next to nothing, even as the former features the singer communicating deep, earnest emotion.

This performance of the title song achieves much the same effect, one which is all the more stirring for its acoustic guitar foundation. Like the elegant piano ornamentation there from former Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell, Jimmy Mattingly's violin and viola amplify the understated impact of the track, suggesting such subdued arrangements might better have dominated Midnight Rose instead of the slightly stiff electric offerings.

Certainly the main engineering of the recording enhances the accurate blend of those nuanced textures. Recorded by multi-instrumentalist Ray Roper—subsequently mixed by Randy Staub and mastered by the rightfully-famed Bob Ludwig—the audio is superior to lyrics such as those of "Living It Up;" co-composed by the star of the show with bassist Todd Ronning and drummer Rick Fedyk; the changes might well have taken more concentration than what was devoted to the prosaic words.

But that shortfall only points up how much more artful is the interweaving of reggae rhythms into "Dance In The Sun." Leslie Page's backing vocals lend an authentic gospel flavor to that cut, her contributions evidence that, to Paul Rodgers' great credit, he did not allow overly-lavish production here; after all, there are four names credited in that category—usually a sure sign of extravagance in lush arrangements and ancillary touches of sonic effects.

Even without the die-cut cover on the vinyl edition of Midnight Rose, the various creative totems pictured inside and out of the CD digi-pak (plus in an enclosed ten-page booklet) gain validity on hearing what is enclosed behind the flower imagery and graphics of various guitars. At least in terms of Paul Rodgers' voice, still strong after all these years, as on another acoustic-flavored number, "Take Love," the frontman's singing is the flashpoint for this album, a verity never more evident than on the blues-derived standout of the LP "Melting." This haunting closer instills hope that. whatever comes next from the kind of loose jams which engendered this sporadically-satisfactory effort may be a reliable sign of better things to come under Paul Rodgers' name and in his voice.

Track Listing

Coming Home; Photo Shooter; Midnight Rose; Living It Up; Dance In The Sun; Take Love; Highway Robber; Melting.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Paul Rodgers: acoustic guitar, harmonica, tambourine; Ray Roper: mandolin, harmonium, synthesizer; ; Bob Rock: acoustic guitar; Chris Gestrin: Hammond B3, clavinet, synthesizer; Jimmy Mattingly: violin.

Album information

Title: Midnight Rose | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Sun Records


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