Six years have elapsed between the release of Angelica Rockne’s debut album, ‘Queen of San Antonio’, and the emergence of ‘The Rose Society’. While both figure within the ballpark marked Americana, there is a huge difference between them. Her debut was tagged cosmic country, whereas her new collection is much more song-oriented, allowing greater prominence for organ and strings. The promotional blurb refers to influences ranging from Ethiopian jazz to Stravinsky, back to folk standards and iconic rock like Harry Nilsson’s John Lennon-produced album ‘Pussy Cats’. To these untutored ears, only the latter influence is discernible but the fluidity and spaciousness of the arrangements, combined with the warmth of Rockne’s voice, make for an enticing proposition.

‘The Rose Society’ reflects a period that saw Rockne move from Oakland to LA. Initially intoxicated by the city and a hedonistic lifestyle but soon finding it fake, she moved on, met her fiancé and in 2020 gave birth to a daughter while a wildfire raged nearby. It has inspired a set of songs that reflect an emotional flux between disillusionment and fulfilment. 

The album starts with ‘The Age of the Voyeur’, immediately striking for the richness, clarity and edge of Rockne’s voice as she enigmatically reflects “I miss you when you were a mystery”. Alongside Scott McGee’s glidingly emotive piano lines and the lush string arrangements of Scott McDowell, Graham Patzner, and Lewis Patzner, she yearns for freedom (“If I could release you / Surely you could release me”).

The title track sees Rockne accompanied by strummed guitar and fiddle, her voice stretching to gorgeous breaking point at “Pray for the light that we could never shine”. It encapsulates an emotive record where the combination of voice and instrumentation often serves to stir the feeling of tears welling. Roses are an eternally fixed signifier in country music and a second song including these beautiful but thorny plants appears later in the album, ‘Path of the Rose’, as accompanied by a small, restrained choir, she begs, “Can I too be worthy of such beauty / Beauty that opens doors through me”.

On ‘The Distance is High’, McGee’s organ could easily be the accompaniment to a southern soul ballad but the images of crying on the mountainside and desert plain place it firmly in Americana territory. ‘White Cadillac’ sketches the toll taken by hedonism (“I was trying to sleep all day / It’s the healthiest vice that I know / It’s the beginning of letting you go… Last night I dreamt we were sane / Quit the band, started over again”) to stirring ascending piano notes. The spare acoustic guitar backing of ‘Protection, Prayers and Vigilance’ leaves Rockne’s vocals ever more exposed before organs and Jason Cirimele’s restrained bluesy guitar add to the tapestry as “obsessions, layers of innocence, escorted me into Los Angeles”.

‘Crystalline’ has some metaphorical, dream-like heightened rhetoric (“Last night, we killed the man that caused the genocide / Confronted the monarch, we found our queen / All was erased from memory / Finally, lit a match and walked away”). Amid nifty guitar and keyboard work, there is a momentary feeling of the music disintegrating before instantly reviving.

The organ and strings intro of ‘The Undoing’ perfectly matches the emotionally exposed and yearning lines that begin and end the song (“I just found out / That the stars won’t allow /Me to be yours / I want to be yours”). ‘Ripe To Ruin’ is especially spine-tingling with gently rising strings bursting into the occasional flutter, the piano wandering purposefully and Rockne asking whether lust is still a sin and memorising the subject of her affection’s body.

The album closes fittingly with ‘The Night Dreams of You’ which sees Rockne making love like it could be the last time, seeking tenderness and truth, the restraint of the guitar and strings adding to the impact. It marks the emergence of Rockne as a songwriter and singer of the highest order backed by a band of great merit.

Angelica Rockne: The Rose Society – Out 5th May 2023 (Loose)

Angelica Rockne: Video – Rose Society

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.