If you listened to the first two Taylor Swift albums–you know, back when she did sound rather country–you’ve heard a Liz Rose song. Liz Rose is most famous for having co-written most of the songs on Swift’s first two albums and helping to make her career, lending the skill of a professional songwriter to stories from a girl over thirty years younger and somehow making the partnership work to perfection. Liz Rose also has a songwriting credit on Little Big Town’s “Girl crush,” as well as many other mainstream hits, always seeming to find that balance between commercial success and critical acclaim. So when news came that she was releasing an album, that couldn’t be taken lightly; rather, it was like hearing about Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandy Clark before her, definitely something to be excited and intrigued about.
The difference? Liz Rose didn’t want to make this record “pitchable.” She didn’t come into it looking for subsequent records or tour dates–in fact, she said that after she wrote the album closer, “My Apology,” she felt like the story had ended, and this might be the only Liz rose record to ever grace our presence. Also, she’s not a performer, though her vocal talent here would counter that notion. Still, you have to come into this record knowing what it is to fully get it; it’s just a little story of Rose’s life told in song, and she just happened to have Nashville connections and a publishing company, so you stumbled upon a copy.
That’s the cool thing about this record. It’s dated, but not in the timeless, throwback way of Colter wall, more like in the way of your mom or aunt or grandma telling their stories about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s trapped there in that time period, and that’s why it’s crucial to understand where Liz Rose is coming from lest it just be an out-of-date, old-fashioned affair. One of the best songs here is the opener, “Grocery Money,” where Rose tells of her mother’s sacrifice and shares the details about growing up with little but somehow always having enough to get by. You’ll hear in “Five ‘n’ Dime” how she worked with her family at one of these stores, in “Woodstock” that she was pissed off to be too young in 1969 to go, and in “Tulsa” about an adventure with her best friend when she was thirteen and ran away from home to “God knows where, Oklahoma.” You’ll get a sense of her fearlessness and motivation to carve out a career for herself in the songwriting industry, an industry she entered at the age of thirty-seven, when you hear “Swimming Alone” and learn that she’s used to finding her own way. You’ll get a glimpse into her love life with “Letters From Prison,” telling the story of a teenage boyfriend who later sent letters to her office and wanted autographs of country stars to distract him from his “personal hell,” and “Ex-Husbands,” the humorous tale of her marriage history that is the highlight of this record and has the potential to get cut despite Rose writing the album to be “unpitchable.” There are also more touching moments, like the aforementioned “My Apology,” where Liz Rose apologizes to her parents, old lovers, and even herself for her mistakes, and “Yellow Room,” where she’s missing and saying goodbye to her father. all in all, it’s a very personal, very unique reflection of her life, much like a snapshot into the life of a relative or a friend, only told in musical form.
AT the same time, that’s also the thing that holds this record back. It’s very personal and cool, but in many places so much so that it won’t be relatable to many. That’s not what Liz rose was going for here, though; she just wanted to make a record for herself. I think people who grew up in these same times will find much to relate to and to love about this album anyway, and this is why I featured it. Personally, although it’s a really cool album and idea, and although the production makes it much more catchy and less boring than these types of singer-songwriter albums generally are, it doesn’t hold up for me beyond the initial interesting glimpse into the life of Liz Rose. The songs “Grocery Money,” “ex-Husbands,” and “Woodstock” stand out above the others, and as a fan, I would pick them off the record; indeed, that’s almost what I did in order to feature Liz rose and this album. I wanted to enjoy this more, particularly as someone who respects the songwriting of Rose, but at the end of the day, a lot of it just isn’t for me, and that directly speaks to the fact that I can’t really relate to these stories and times. But it’s a record that will be for a lot of people despite, or perhaps even because of, its personal nature. People from Rose’s generation especially will connect to this album, and in light of Liz Rose’s intent with this project, the result was a cool listen if nothing else.