NEAL ROSNER – Kentucky

Bradlor 2023

From mundane to heavenly, American commentator of existential thrills gets his solo shift together.


When a phrase “Don’t be a fool” has an attachment of “don’t be a jihadist too” on the chorus of an album’s inaugural song, the discerning listener will know its course is supposed to turn rhetoric to polemic; yet for all the controversy laid out on this artist’s full-length debut, nobody can expect elements of Jewish liturgy flowing into its journalistic context. But then, as a radiologist, Dr. Neal Rosner’s bound to perceive various aspects of human nature, and of himself too, including spiritual one. For the last five decades he’s also been observing the state of external affairs, seeing enough to amass sixteen cinematically engaging songs which make up “Kentucky” – a reference to the musician’s longtime residence, rather than a reflection of his parochial outlook – and make those who embrace it uncomfortable enough to start thinking about what’s happening around them. A scorer of a few films, he knows how to do exactly that.

However, for all the interpretational freedom offered to Rosner’s audience on these pieces, composed between 1972 and 2023, idiosyncratic opener “The Choice” doesn’t allow the punters to stray from the piano-driven straight and narrow, as Neal’s soft vocals shoot sharp truths at funky fanaticism where Freudian concepts of love and death rub shoulders with religious concerns. Surprisingly or not, the organ-elevated “Apocalypse Chicago” and the clavichord-spiced “I Guess The Engagement Is Off” take their doom ‘n’ groove towards vaudevillian decadence of a Weimar stripe before the woodwind-wounded, playful prog epic “Les Cirque Des Enfants” liberates even the far-flung, fairground fantasies. More so, the evocative, strings-drenched “Frances” – a duet with the director P.J. Woodside from her movie of the same name – brings in Boscoe France’s anguished guitar roar and reckless klezmer swirl, a perfect bridge to the record’s second half that will find Rosner devoutly and sincerely delve into the electric “Avinu Malkenu” and the a cappella-laden “Psalm 19:14” to settle his score with the Almighty and tie his Christian faith to Judaism of his ancestors.

And how can he not, if the violin-tinctured “Micajah” that was written for the picture about first serial killers in the USA marries sea shanty to country ballad to create a riveting yarn for Neal to intone in a hauntingly honeyed voice and question misplaced loyalty which the histrionic “Red And Blue” locates in the 2016 election drama to show the “God is on our side” slogan can easily go awry? What can’t is a vertiginously solemn techno-bossa of another soundtrack cut, “What Price Would You Play” (and its instrumental version “It Lives In The Attic”) that gets high on bluesy licks, and the hymnal finale of “Western Kentucky Come On Down” that streams Rosner’s croon and bass line over the folk-informed landscape.

And the landscape is much wider than the geography of the album’s titular state; indeed, it’s a landscape of an American’s soul.


February 27, 2024

Category(s): Reviews
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