Today's Weekly Update is a calming and harmonious entry in the form of the incomparable Brian Blade --- session drummer to the stars, jazz pioneer and songwriter. If you are not familiar with Brian Blade or his career as a drummer, I urge you to check out anything he's done either with his groundbreaking Jazz ensemble, the Fellowship Band, or his work as a session musician on either stage or in studio. Blade has worked with amazing artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois and Norah Jones - just to name a few. Often called to work with musician and producer Daniel Lanois, Blade offers up a very unique and powerful rhythm section to everything he touches. His work with Lanois' band Black Dub, is a perfect entry for anyone who's not familiar with the style, class or raw power of Mr. Blade.
Aside from merging genre in song and form, Blade is an incredible songwriter both with his Fellowship band and his solo work. "Mama Rosa" is simply an intimate and tender portrait into Blade's songwriting. It sits somewhere between the airy 70's folk sound and darker tonal qualities that he's become accustomed to, with working with Lanois. Beautiful songs are present here. Rich and full acoustic-meets-raw guitar tones, all merging together in this beautiful kind of way. You can literally hear the music being made as you listen to the record flow. "Mama Rosa" could easily be dismissed as a quiet piece of work, but it's much more than that. It's a rich and warm record that calls for a warm beverage on a cold morning, opening up your eyes as much as it does your heart.
In "Mama Rosa" I hear many of the signature sounds of the people Blade has worked with. The song structures, while are not dead ringers of anything, Joni Mitchell would write. I can hear that intention of brooding and slow folk, harkening the breezy 70's free flow in the melody and harmony. Lanois lends his talents on "Mama Rosa" in roughly half of the material, providing a gorgeous and dark landscape for Blade to float upon. Make no mistake, this record is chock full of amazing guitar production. Other guests such as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Rocco Deluca, and Greg Leisz round out a sort of dream team of session players.
Songs like After The Revival, Mercy Angel and Her Song are wonderful examples of beauty emerging, growing into a larger flourish. There's this quality about the songwriting here; almost as if an old friend is back in town sharing their stories of family, love and life. Nothing is forced with the material. Every musical moment is allowed the chance to become something. This mentality is incredibly interesting to me, especially in a world where calculation is in the front seat in our modern musical climate.
Centerline, You'll Always Be My Baby and Struggling With That are some of my other favorite selections from "Mama Rosa". Darker in nature with the hazy line that's often created by the production of Lanois, these songs just ooze vibe. As a guitarist, I'm drawn to the raw and beautiful layers. There's just a beautiful power that comes from this place, where intention feeds production. Lush tremolo, vibrato and echo all spin together in this gorgeous brew --- dripping with soul.
Material like "Mama Rosa" comes up through the depths only so often, it's important to hold pieces of work like this dear and close to you. I hope you might take a listen and feel some of that same emotion and share it with someone as I have done for you. With respect to Joni Mitchell and Blades work with her, I can see this line from Free Man In Paris offering up a simple answer to why I feel records like "Mama Rosa" are just so important....
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
Nobody was calling me up for favors
No one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song.