Quietly and methodically, Birmingham-born, New York-based songwriter/crooner Edward Rogers has established himself as a major force in retro Britrock tunesmithing. Over his four previosu albums, he’s earned comparisons to Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bowie, Kevin Ayers (whose work he saluted with his previous album, Kaye) and – this isn’t an overstatement – Ray Davies. Rogers’ latest album, Glass Marbles – streaming at Spotify – is a bitter, doomed, epic nineteen-track masterpiece: it’s his Sandinista, or Blonde on Blonde, or Here Come the Miracles. He and his brilliant band -whose core includes James Mastro on lead guitar, Don Piper on rhythm, Konrad Meissner on drums and Sal Maida on bass – to a killer twinbill with Marty Willson-Piper – the Richard Thompson of the twelve-string guitar – at the Cutting Room on June 21 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $20.
Rogers has an acute political awareness, whether casting a cold eye on how gentrification has devastated his beloved East Village, or here. The catchy World of Mystery opens the album, bringing to mind the Byrds version of Dylan’s My Back Pages. It’s an upbeat tune but it’s far from a happy song, the eyes of a clairvoyant “Now resigned and forced to be blind…the art of seeing is now dead, no more futures, no more futures can be read.”
Rogers revisits that theme on the toweringly crescendoing Denmark Street Forgotten, building out of spare, uneasily lingering guitars over mutedly ominous tom-tom syncopation:
You say it’s history
Please hear my plea
Not another robbers’ block for you and me
Welcome to My Monday Morning paints a vivid, grey-sky folk-rock portrait of working-class drudgery – and then picks up with a bounce as the weekend approaches. The Letter has an echoey, surreal blend of early 70s Bowie and vaudevillian Sergeant Pepper pop. The understatedly savage Jumbo Sale is one of those echoey, atmospherically psychedelic mood pieces Rogers is so adept at.
The entire band, especially the rhythm section, do a spot-on Stones impersonation throughout Bright Star, which could be a long-lost outtake from, say, the Black and Blue sessions. My Lady Blue – a droll Harry Chapin reference? – builds a pensive Hunkiy Dory Bowie-esque feel, just guitars and vocals, looking back bittersweetly on a late-night barroom hookup that predictably ended pretty much where it started. The glarmock/psychedelic stomp Olde House on the Hill is another bitter reminiscence: “The garden’s been replaced by thorns from hell,” Rogers rails.
The band goes back to pensively purposeful folk-rock for Broken Wishes on Display, then returns with a vengeance to withering social commentary with Blckpool Nights, a hauntingly vivid minor-key portrait of seedy resort-town dissolution and anomie. He and the band absolutely slayed with this last year at Rough Trade and did the same at Hifi Bar a couple of weeks ago.
Rogers evokes the Byrds again, both lyrically and jangle-wise, in I’m Your Everyday Man, a guardedly hopeful populist anthem with some nimble neo-baroque keyboard work. The band goes further down the psychedelic rabbit hole toward Indian exotica with Fade Away, its enveloping sonics contrasting with Rogers’ starkly straightforward tale of class disciminiation. Likewise, the easygoing baroque-rock sway of Seconds Into Minutes masks a bitter account of time gloat forever.
The albums best and catchiest track is Looking for Stone Angels, a dead ringer for a 1965 Byrds twelve-string janglefest: it’s Rogers at his elegaic best: “Not sure you want to live tomorow as your hopes fade away.” The band descends into broodingly artsy, Strawbs-isn folk rock with Just Like That It Came N Went, mellotron fluttering sepulchrally behind a web of acoustic guitars while Rogers’ scarecrow imagery completes the gloomy picture
Burn n Play is the album’s most sarcastic number, a thinly veiled anti-yuppie broadside that nicks a familiar 80s yuppie cheeseball anthem. Stars in Your Eyes, with its deep-space, minimalist piano, makes a striking contrast. The album’s title track is an even more unexpected departure into apocalyptic, scattergun no wave funk, boiling with nails-down-the-blackboard guitar multitracks. The End Moments offers muted, resigned closure: “I want to go out more quitely than I came in,” Rogers intones soberly.
Behind Rogers’ uncluttered, down-to-earth, weathered vocals, the entire band channels fifty years of smart UK songcraft. Where does this fall alongside the other albums released in 2016? It’s definitely the best nineteen-track release of the year…and the century, so far.