Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biff Rose S/T (liner notes)

Johnny Carson: “He’s a composer, a performer, a philosopher, an electric carrot... arrgh, a charming guy - would you welcome: Biff Rose...”

Beloved by David Bowie and the Manson family, reloved by a crew of contemporary troubadour types (Devandra Bernhardt et al), Biff Rose hails from an eclipsed tradition of vaudeville artistry. It was talking pictures on large and small screens alike that put an end to all that quick-witted stagecraft, but just as they took so they also gave back and so for a while every US television station had its own humourous but topical singer/songwriter declaiming away and (sometimes) working over the ivories by way of accompaniment.

Well, Biff Rose is (or was) a bit like that; he was on television, some. Writing for stand-up guy George Carlin at first... Also: performing on variety shows hosted by Mort Sahl... tho’ Rose himself prefers the notional company of peers like Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley... (Huh?) OK... This stuff may be of some kind of significance when thinking on the work of our current Rose: the cuss words and provocative antagonism. These folks are and were the “loyal opposition”: exponents of the inflammatory arts of liberal-baiting and iconoclastic put-ons.

Anyways! His early works (especially those 2 late ‘60s LPs) betray his counter-culture sympathies and an Oedipal tension... Moreover: a boisterous good humour, and the laid-bare heart of a gentle, tender person. He is a terrifically accomplished pianist – stride-style audio slapstick, tho’ balanced with a virtuoso attention to phrasing. There’s a genuine delicacy of touch and timing, to match the intimacy of the earnest, heartfelt lyrics. The wry sardonicisms invite comparison to Tom Lehrer - who is a laughing mad cat likeways - but Rose graduated from Lehrer’s sophomore wit long years back; even his funny songs are invested with a romantic poignancy.


Available now from the Omni Recording Corporation

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