John Craigie | "No Rain, No Rose" | Review
The stars seem to be aligning for John Craigie, a Portland-based songwriter whose stripped down and relatable songs are a refreshing dose of Americana in our saturated musical landscape. Craigie was recently picked by Jack Johnson to open for the West Coast leg of his Summer 2017 tour. This announcement comes after Johnson sat in during one of Craigie’s shows in Hawaii, and the two hit it off famously. These will be the largest venues Craigie has played to date, and should provide a wonderful forum for him to showcase his newest offering, No Rain, No Rose.
No Rain, No Rose is a truly intimate album, capturing the spirit of a live performance while retaining the refinement of a studio endeavor. The album was recorded in an old Victorian home in Portland, where Craigie gathered a group of local musicians and friends to jam and explore the communal nature of folk music. By eschewing the recording studio in favor of a more collaborative approach, Craigie has created an album that brings us closer to the music, blurring the line between artist and performer. No Rain, No Rose is his tenth studio album, and the polish afforded by years of practice is evident. The artist’s life and experiences in the city of Portland provide the inspiration for many of the tunes on the album, and the songs are highly relatable and tinged with sadness.
Craigie opens the record with “Virgin Guitar,” which meanders through lyrics of aimlessness and ambiguity, while exploring the reality of finding solace in an imperfect partner. “Broken” employs Dylan-esque harmonica refrains, and “Highway Blood” features a soft, caressing melody underneath Craigie’s soft-spoken lyrics. “Rough Johns” features a bit more twang and bite in Craigie’s vocals, where he discusses unconditional love for a flawed partner over a shuffling, toe-tapping rhythm.
No Rain, No Rose begins to truly hit its stride with “Savannah.” There is a haunting gentleness to Craigie’s voice in this song, and the vocals flow mellifluously through the chorus. “Bucket List Grandmas” ratchets up the energy, featuring a twangy electric guitar, while juxtaposing darkness and light, happiness and sadness, and hope and despair. Another album highlight comes in the form of “Tumbling Dice,” a stripped down and refreshing take on the Rolling Stones’ classic tune. The most compelling track on the album, however, is certainly “I Am California.” Craigie embodies the land, giving voice and personification to the mountains and trees of the golden state. A lamenting Western fiddle and harmonica accompany the lyrics, which discuss how the spirit of the land remains in the souls of those who have lived upon it.
There is a relaxed and communal spirit to No Rain, No Rose, and the album frequently feels as if it was recorded around a campfire. Compelling music blurs the line between audience and performer, and John Craigie has certainly managed to pull listeners across the divide.