Laura Groves' influences span genres and generations: from Bartok to Bush, Tiersen to Tears For Fears, Debussy to Du Maurier. "Blue Roses" is the serendipity that can only happen when you thought you'd stopped looking.
Review by James Christopher Monger
The debut from English singer/songwriter Laura Groves (aka Blue Roses) draws more than a little from 1960s folk traditions, both British (Anne Briggs) and from across the pond (Joni Mitchell). Groves' earnest yet elusive wordplay, serpentine melodies, and minimal arrangements lithely follow the trail blazed by the current crop of postmillennial retro fairy tale crooners like Joanna Newsom, Tiny Vipers, and Laura Barrett, but her willingness to explore the more commercial side of the experimental/alternative folk movement may shield her from the "freak folk" tag so liberally applied to many of her contemporaries. Proficient on both guitar and piano, Groves is most effective when behind the latter, crafting luminous, pastoral ballads like "Greatest Thoughts," "I Wish I...," and "Imaginary Fights" that echo early Kate Bush -- the spooky, marimba-laced "Doubtful Comforts" is one of the album's highlights. Alternating between fingerpicked acoustic and electric, the remaining tracks are hardly deficient of introverted charm, but with the exception of the semi-propulsive "Rebecca," the pace is sluggish at best, resulting in a collection of songs best listened to in threes, or all at once with one's forehead pressed against the window waiting for the rain to pass.
The self-titled debut from 21-year-old British songwriter Laura Groves, under the name Blue Roses, thrives on the romance of youth and the unknown. On opener "Greatest Thoughts", for instance, Groves suffers her adoration for the lover who won't meet her in the middle and, even worse, will never actually understand her. But she's willing to forfeit just a bit of her young life to give him a chance: "You pulled me closer to your chest/ You were the one that I liked best," she rhymes simply, her bracing voice whispering above a romantic piano line that recalls Claude Debussy. And over the steadily building waves of acoustic guitar that shape "Coast", Groves sings of escaping to the "coast of the East of England." Confident in the immortality afforded by youth and love, she wants to stare into the danger of the storms moving in from the sea-- with him. "I think that he and I will be saved," she sings, harmonizing the high notes herself. Indeed, the bulk of Blue Roses is a call to turn one's beliefs over to feelings and intuition, even if it results in the sort of somber, sobering imperative that ends this album: "You're better off leaving/ Just go in the night." For Groves, life's more about invigorating highs and lows than the inevitable crash that follows.
These lyrical patterns fit the 10 songs that comprise Blue Roses, a mostly solo album played almost entirely by Groves and recorded by friends in several English homes. Even though youth sometimes overcomes her taste here, she's adventurous and confident, executing grand musical gestures without hesitation.
To wit, the opening triptych is as brazen an introduction to a new songwriter, singer, arranger, and performer as I can recall. Groves is as comfortable with the soft, solitary coo that begins "Greatest Thoughts" as she is with the crisscrossed-and-stacked harmonies that bloom at its middle. She swings between the strident flair of Joanna Newsom and the broad mellifluence of Antony at will, and her versatility continually renews interest. The album's best moment-- the brilliant second tune, "Cover Your Tracks"-- even bends time. With its dizzying succession of parts, it feels like 15 minutes' worth of ideas crammed into a potential radio hit. And Groves' ideas-- from guitar finger-picking to an exultant choir that splits the song's calm surface-- suggest we're not witnessing someone who treats her songs casually. Having nothing and everything to prove at once, Groves infuses tunes that seem naively simple on paper, like the coming-of-resilience mantra and third track "I Am Leaving", with floods of conflicting elements. Analog keyboards and accordion, digital distortion and glockenspiel: They all lift the song's lilting acoustic guitar, effectively transforming it from a ditty into a statement.
Over these 45 minutes, though, that saturated aesthetic sometimes drowns itself. Groves doesn't yet posses the wisdom of restraint, at least not consistently. Sure, "Rebecca" begins with a spare electric guitar line and her lonely voice, and closer "Imaginary Flights" begins with an elegant piano dirge. But, like their counterparts, these tunes inevitably swell, suffocating Groves' occasionally masterful use of dynamics with too many of them. She doesn't step away from the flourishes to let the song breathe, and she only rarely lets the music communicate the story apart from the words and her voice. It's like watching two great movies on a split-screen television: Sometimes, one needs to be paused so that the other can make sense. This idea works in the hands of masters like Sufjan Stevens (in spite of his vainglory and gimmicks) and Jim O'Rourke (in spite of his, you know, aloofness). Groves isn't there yet.
But I'm more than willing to eat these words soon: Blue Roses makes it clear that Groves is inordinately talented and working with big portions of audacity and acumen. It's the sort of debut that puts Groves in the company of recent giants, both with its dramatic compositional flair (again, Joanna Newsom) and in its mix of homemade humility and major accomplishment. Add Blue Roses to the recent list of Bon Iver, Adem Ilhan, and Peter Broderick-- smart songwriters with the vision and wherewithal to do succeed, for the most part, by themselves.
— Grayson Currin, July 27, 2009