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Rosetta West – Underground Volume 1

Self release

14 tracks; 49:30 minutes

Underground Volume 1, a new CD by Rosetta West, is without a doubt the most difficult reviewing assignment I’ve received, to date. My difficulty arose from a lack of available background information on the band, a further stretching of my definition of the Blues genre, and the raw nature of the music, itself. My desire is to give you an impartial appraisal of what I hear in their music, while giving Rosetta West appropriate credit for their creative work on this CD.

I generally like to research the bands I review, and Rosetta West seems to literally exist “underground.” This may be considered a plus by their fans who, perhaps, prefer artists outside the music industry establishment. They appear to have no official website, and there is little general information about them on the web – though there are some reviews posted of their earlier albums, and a few of their song clips available online.

Rosetta West describes their band as “a very eclectic blues band from Illinois,” saying that, “although fairly obscure” they are “highly respected in select international circles.” Joseph Demagore is the guitar and keyboard player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, and all-around mastermind of Rosetta West, which was founded in 1996. (A number of artists are listed as playing drums, percussion and bass for this CD.) After viewing some of their videos on YouTube, with their prevalent images of death, darkness and devils, one can’t help but wonder if the name Demagore is actually a play on words or stage name, crafted to go along with the theme of their music.

Their genre has been described online as psychedelic blues/garage/rock, which might indicate that they are not easy to categorize. I would have to add metal to that list, and downplay the Blues part of this description, as the Blues influence didn’t seem all that obvious to me. Their music bears some similarity to music by The Melvins, or The Black Keys “Little Black Submarine.” In addition, there is a pervasive Middle Eastern flavor to at least half a dozen songs on this CD, expressed through Demagore’s guitar work and his sometimes-wailing vocals.

In his submission letter, Demagore points out Tracks 1, 4 and 5 as the more Blues-related songs. Cut 1, “Underground” does feature a nice beat and a generous amount of (somewhat raw) slide guitar. And though it is one of the more upbeat songs on this CD, it still hovers somewhere between dark and depressed. I didn’t feel that Cut 4, “Nightmare Blues” was overly bluesy, but I have heard a similar song – “Hypocrisy Blues” by The Boogie Monsters – played on Sirius XM’s Bluesville channel. Cut 5, “Suzie,” did not seem to obviously fall within the Blues genre either, but it does have a nice guitar solo in the middle, and I believe it is one of the stronger tracks on this album. It tells the chilling story of an insane homeless girl who dies but continues to haunt the singer. You’ll find that the song’s video contains some moderately disturbing images.

In my opinion, the most polished cut on Underground Volume 1 would have to be “Inferno,” a highly synthesized instrumental, which could easily be used as a score behind a nightmare sequence in a horror movie.

My main complaint has to do with not being able to understand the song lyrics (and believe me, as I say this, I hear echoes of my parents’ voices in my head). However, Demagore’s vocals are fairly processed, not overly enunciated, and he tends to sing right on top of each guitar strum. Some online fan postings praise this particular style, saying that it ensures that the vocals don’t get in the way of hearing the band. Personally, I suspect that some of the lyrics are poetic, and I’d like the benefit of hearing them. Perhaps, if the band prefers this vocal style, they will consider printing the lyrics in future CD inserts.

Reviewing Underground Volume 1 has certainly been a challenge. Its musical style is quite raw (read: unpolished) - sounding much like the songs I used to hear coming out of garages as a teenager. Is it Blues-based? I’m not sure. If this music is, indeed, Blues, Rosetta West’s dark, minor chords and moaning, depressed-sounding vocals take the Blues to its farthest reaches of despair…a place where hope no longer exists.

Reviewer Sheila Skilling is a self-professed “blues fan by marriage,” who was hooked by her husband’s musical preferences, but reeled in by the live performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and others. She lives in the Minneapolis area.

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