Louis Rosen: I Don’t Know Anything: An Album in Three Acts

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Louis Rosen

I Don’t Know Anything: An Album in Three Acts
(Di-tone Records)
January 1, 2020
Reviewed by Alix Cohen

As signified by photos of his 17-year-old self facing his 61-year-old self, Louis Rosen’s ninth CD “suggests the possibility of a circle closing, integration of then and now.” A philosopher-poet, Rosen is the kind of highly literate singer-songwriter whose musical oeuvre seems set in the late 1960s when the breed was more common. Excepting the droll, contemporary blues, “Unknown Name, Unknown Number,” lyrics address past and present with one foot in each.

Rosen is a meticulous orchestrator. It wasn’t until a second listen that I picked up all the nuanced contributions. The musicians are first class. There’s an overall sound here which makes the CD homogenous and a smooth listen-through, though it might have been a bit more varied. The artist’s appealing voice is fleece-like, considered.

“Before the Window Closes” emerges as a note to one’s creative self, a time conscious, carpe diem. A reminiscence of a youthful affair with “Kathleen O’Toole” (written with Art Perlman) has the haunting quality of a classic folk song. Marialena DiFabbio’s harmony unfurls ghostly.
Were it not for a lyric about potentially finding Kathleen “with a click,” the song would be timeless. The violin is lovely; horns create shadows; the vocal is airbrushed.

“I Don’t Know Anything” is a meditative, kicking oneself chant. Slow breathing tempo and pristine guitar (heartstrings?) waft. On its heels, the infectious rockabilly rhythm of “Guru, Please Tell Me” arrives in direct, appealing contrast to universal questions. Incongruity (with which we’re surrounded these days) is nifty.

The dystopian, groove-driven “Limitless World” was apparently written the day after Trump secured his nomination: “where anger and fear may trump all belief, and a well-heeled huckster can be Commander-in-Chief.” It speaks of the “soul-killing hunger” with which most of us have grown much too familiar. Deft crosscurrents add vibraphone, drums, and acoustic bass to the classical string trio Y Music Ensemble.

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Between each of the three acts is an evocative instrumental. The first features Andrew Sterman’s beautiful clarinet; it’s contrite, but curiously not sad, and it’s quite moving. The second, spotlighting C.J. Camerieri’s mellifluous trumpet, conjures respite in a gliding boat.

The CD’s title song, “My Third Act,” is a wry, cinematic shrug with Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger guitar treatment: “…felt this mutual attraction/finally asked her on a date. She said ‘You remind me of my dad/this might be fun.’ I said, ‘Call me Pops/my third act has begun.’”

Two graceful farewell songs indicate time has, indeed, passed since this journey began. In the first, “What Are the Odds?” (written with Art Perlman) “she would ask me. Is there a life after life on earth?

‘What is the point,’ she would grumble.

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” Characters play another hand of gin and let the questions pass. The deathbed scene is palpably tender, reconciled. The second, “In the Hour of His Leaving” engages as a dignified eulogy.

Rosen tells me “Morning Soul” was written when he was 18. Rediscovering it, he decided the song made “a fitting coda. I also like that, as the only pure love song on the album, it suggests a new beginning.” It’s impossible not to hear the hope in that phrase, despite the gravitas of the material to which I just listened. Sentiment arrives with a less curated vocabulary here. The song is honest and sweetly grateful.

Louis Rosen (and band) will be at Birdland January 26 to celebrate this CD.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.