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  • Writer's pictureLuke Wolk

Rosetta West album Review!





Artist: Rosetta West

Album: Labyrinth

Released: 2024


Illinois based bluesy rock and roll band Rosetta West is a fascinating gumbo of musical styles. There are several albums to the band's credit, the latest being 2024's Labyrinth, a 14 song set that clocks in at 50 minutes and takes the listener on an unforgettable musical journey.

There is clearly an ear for the blues, but they stretch far beyond the constraints of the blues on this latest release. The band leans quite heavily into psychedelia, straight rock and roll and almost flirting with an industrial vibe at times. Not so much in the production, but in the performance. I feel like Elmore James and Trent Reznor had nearly the same influence over this unique musical outfit.


The track that jumped out on first listen was Shine. A straight rock and roll track in the tradition of The Rolling Stones with raspy vocals and bluesy guitar. It captures how bands like The Stones and The Black Crowes twisted the blues into something new and exciting. Taking the standard blues changes but turning them into something else entirely. This band knocked the ball out of the park with that bluesy rock and roll approach on this track. The guitar lead took on a  Kinks vibe which you can never go wrong with. I suspect this is a real fan pleaser live.


The very next song is a straight blues track called Elmore's Blues. Done in the tradition of classic Elmore James with the signature slide licks over a steam roller of a shuffle groove. Fans of the straight blues will find this one to be a memorable track. There is something beautiful about the simplicity of the blues and this cut tips its hat to that simple form with grace and respect. They keep it pocketed right where it belongs but still manage to put their own stamp on it.


Fly Away is another straight 12 bar blues shuffle that is a shining example of the band's ability to just keep it simple and play the blues. They approach their blues like a band that stopped listening by the early 60s and embraced the classic Chicago approach to the music. Instead of depending on flashy guitar playing that is found in so much contemporary blues this band keeps it simple and lays into it with conviction. It is dirty in every corner of the production capturing a great performance with all its grit.


The last cut of the record is a song called Superior. A Hendrix infused rocker that holds nothing back. With trashy sounding drums and guitars the vibe is cemented. The guitar tone sounds like  the amp is about to explode, reminiscent of early Kinks and Zeppelin. If Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz were going to sit in with the mighty Led Zeppelin on the classic cut Whole Lotta Love I think this is what it would've sounded like!


Labyrinth is a diverse and interesting listen. It is unpolished in all the coolest ways with a real garage band vibe at times. That's not to say it is sub par. It is quite the contrary. It isn't easy to capture the feeling of raw and unrefined music that is still a compelling listen. There is something about that style of music that cannot be polished. It's walking a tightrope between a sharp edge or sharpening the blade until it's dull. Rosetta West found a great balance with this release. Fans of the nastier side of the blues and classic rock will enjoy this record.


Check out this interview with Joe Demagore as well!


Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career.

I grew up in and around Chicago and eagerly soaked up the blues scene in the

80s. The Chicago Blues Fest started in the mid-80’s and it was wild back then.

I started Rosetta West in Chicago in the 90s and our first independent albums

were embraced by the European psych scene. We played a lot of shows and it

was both intense and very fun. I took a break from performing when my kids

were born, but kept recording. Went back to performing in 2003 and signed

with Alive Records in 2004 for one album during the garage rock revival.

Then it was back to independent releases - a lot of them, and a lot of shows.

Went through stretches of total obscurity, but there were always weird

appreciative fans out there and weird radio stations that supported us. I always

loved it so much. Now we’ve released “Labyrinth” and people are picking up on

it, so it seems like a new era.


Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Hendrix was my first guitar hero. Keith Richards for some of his lo-fi home-

recording methods in the late 60s. But more than anyone, Jimmy Page has

influenced me on so many levels. I think I would highlight the incredible breadth

of his musical interests. His ability to seamlessly weave Celtic, Indian and

Arabic influences - among other things - into blues rock is breathtaking and

something I aspire to.


What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician?

I would guess the first, self-titled Rosetta West album! I never stopped after

that! It has a Jack O’Lantern on the front. It’s worth looking for.


What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far?

I’m 56 years old. Sometimes I don’t want to reveal my age because I don’t want

to scare off the younger listeners! But I have to say, one of my favorite things is

that I’m still doing it after all this time and still totally in love with it - totally

devoted - and still reaching new listeners. I’ve gone through a lot and survived a

lot to be here now.


Tell me about your favorite performance in your career.

I can’t pick one out, but there have been a few special times when I had the

strange sensation of growing to a giant size on stage while playing. That’s how

good it felt. And drugs had nothing to do with it!


What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?

When I was starting to put together Rosetta West, I wasn’t confident in my

ability to carry a band on my own as a guitarist. I had been a singer in bands,

but never a guitarist, and I figured I would need a lead player to help me.

Anyway, I had made some demos - just me and my guitar - and I played them

for a friend of mine who was very droll, cynical, and critical of everything. He

listened to the demos and turned to me and said “What do you need a second

guitarist for?” That was one of the sweetest things anyone ever said to me, and

this guy was far from sweet!


What's new in the recording of your music?

We recorded “Labyrinth,” at the home studio of bass player/keyboardist Jason

X. We had a great time. It was his first effort at being a sound engineer, and I

think he did a good job. He’s also credited as co-producer, because he had

some really good suggestions about decorative touches to add. He’s a very

good, very perceptive musician. Recording “Labyrinth” was intense, but it was a

real joy because of the camaraderie me and Jay had.


How has your music changed over the years?

My voice has gotten huskier and deeper, that’s for sure! Hard to say, honestly.

I suppose everyone wants to say they’ve gotten better and better and more

sophisticated. But I’ve always played weird, Eastern-influenced blues rock with

frequent mystical themes and some odd Native American flavor in there

somewhere. I guess I’m still the same.


What inspires you to write the music you write?

Life. Any attempt to elaborate on that would just be minimizing it.

What made you want to play the instrument you play?

Hendrix. No doubt about it.


How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past?

Jay’s musicianship has really added a lot of colors this time around, and his

suggestions were often very good. We hadn’t worked together for 18 years and

in the old days he didn’t have as much influence on the recording process. But

during the recording of “Labyrinth,” he urged me to try new things in terms of

decoration. I was challenged as a musician, and I found that I enjoyed that very

much.


How are you continuing to grow musically?

My biological clock is ticking very loudly now. I joked about my age before, but

seriously, in middle age you really become painfully aware that you have a

limited time left. And I’m absolutely determined to make the best music I can

while I still can. I consider that to be growth as a musician, because dedication

is everything…and I’m more dedicated than ever.


If you could change anything about the music industry today, what

would it be?

Artificial Intelligence is looking pretty scary, but the cat’s out of the bag.

Musicians just have to be as creative as possible. Be unique.


What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?

I have a problem with my fretboard hand that prevents me from doing super-

speedy solos like Eddie Van Halen. That’s not my style, but sometimes I feel

bad about it anyway. And I used to sing like a bird. I could literally sing

anything. Now I have to do a lot of vocal exercises just to maintain a decent

range. I like to think my voice is expressive enough to carry the day, anyway.


What strengths do you have that you believe make you the

musician you are?

I love doing it. I just love it dearly.


Do you have any anxiety about performing live?

When there’s been a big gap of time between shows, I definitely get nervous.

When you start doing it regularly, it’s exciting but not scary.


Describe your creative process when you write new music.

I generally seize on a few cool sounding guitar ideas when they come through

and work on them and expand them until they’re a song. Then the lyrics.

There have been occasions when whole songs have come to me spontaneously.

Those moments are thrilling and borderline scary.


Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry.

Do it for the love of music. And if you feel it love you back and what you play is

deep and meaningful to you, then you’re a star. That’s all that matters.


What does your practice routine consist of?

I’ll reiterate again for the singers - do vocal exercises! You may not need them

when you’re young, but you’ll be glad you got in the habit when you’re older.

And I play guitar all the time in about a dozen different tunings.


What do you like most about your new album?

It sounds kind of vast and epic to me. I love it.


What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays?

There’s a New Orleans Dixieland band called Tuba Skinny. They’ve been around

a long time and there’s a lot of Youtube videos of them playing on the street.

Their line-up is kind of fluid, so you should check several videos to get an idea

of what they’re about.


What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc. ?

Spotify, I guess. I just started with that.


Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming

shows/tours or songs/albums?

There’s a lot of albums on the Rosetta West Bandcamp site that are worth

checking out. Many of them have a real home-recording lo-fi feel to them that

may be strange to some of your audience. But I would urge them to listen for

the vibe and the emotions and the meaning. I think they’ll find some real gems

there.


What's next for your band?

We’re planning on putting an EP out in a couple months maybe. We’ve already

started recording and it sounds great. Anyway, I wish everyone the best.

Thanks for this opportunity to share some thoughts

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