Denied access to her band members during lockdown, this amazing follow-up to 2019’s debut solo effort has been lovingly crafted by Rosalie together with her partner Rosco Wilson, and the creative juices have most certainly been flowing. The only other contributor is the excellent Ric Sanders, fiddle player for Fairport Convention who appears at regular intervals, adding jaunty colour and depth. The psychedelic leanings of the debut are continued and extended here, and as usual, Rosalie’s compositions twist and turn in unexpected directions several times in each song. She has an ear for detail, and was probably tempted to keep layering as ideas arose, but to her credit, she has allowed the music room to breathe, despite some complex arrangements.
So Two Piece Puzzle is definitely a step forward from the debut, and is easily her best work to date, and given the quality of previous songs, that is saying something. The obvious point of reference is The Beatles, and their influence abounds, and many other influences pop up along the way. There’s a nod to Bowie in some of the quirky arrangements, a tip of the hat to Kate Bush, and moments which really remind me of the late great Randy California. To take these flavours and create a new and exciting recipe of her own is a tribute to her undoubted talent, and she is fast developing a very distinctive sound.
So where do we start? Well we Start With the Corners apparently, and so begins a thrilling ride with a sort of short overture, or more accurately, strut. It’s a powerful and assertive introduction which drifts in on shimmering guitars, then marches on triumphantly, interrupted now and again with a bubbly distorted melody. The first vocal song follows, Donovan Ellington, a folky story song with Byrds-like jangly guitar, Ric’s wonderfully vibrant fiddle, and a sort of Eastern feel. Donny Part Two continues the story and Irish folky flavour in jaunty style.
Rosco proves he too can sing on the truly great Duet, which is just that, driven by thumping piano as the story unfolds of a couple being pulled apart by ambition. Both musically and lyrically this piece is simply sublime, and continues the album’s duality theme cleverly. The song develops into a psychedelic blow out, with some wonderfully woozy wah-wah soloing. Mick Ronson would have been pretty happy on this song. Another epic piece follows, the Indian flavoured Tristitia Amnesia which enters with George Harrison sounding guitars and a mantra opening section before morphing into a rock groove with some strange hallucinogenic lyrics, then developing into a Doorsy improvisation before grinding to an abrupt halt.
Scared of the Dark is one of the songs which reminds me of early Spirit. I can’t say whether they are genuinely an influence or if this is simply coincidence given the sort of territory which inspires Rosalie, but either way it is a very welcome comparison as far as I’m concerned. And of course no song remains the same throughout, so we soon wander in a different direction, but all the time remaining focussed and vital. The refusal to stick with any one genre could in less skilled hands result in a mess, but similar to Queen’s flair for making any genre or style their own, Rosalie hops around yet creates a cohesive whole. Suck Push Bang Blow is a nod to heavy metal with swelling organ and distorted guitar shapes, and finally we come to the closing piece, and it’s a special one. The Liner Notes is a brilliant song, moving from lounge jazz with gorgeous guitar licks, again evoking the spirit of Randy California, to the memorable main verses. There’s then the ‘over and over the White Cliffs of Dover’ section, which is so Beatles inspired, complete with super slide guitar, then returning to the main chorus. It could be about the process of making this album, but then again, the lyrics are often pretty oblique, so who knows?
This album is a total triumph. It sounds at once completely familiar and comfortable, yet confounds the listener’s expectations at every turn, often several times during the course of a single song. There’s such a wealth of richly detailed embellishment, yet enough space to move and not feel smothered in complexity. Striking that balance can’t have been easy, but Rosalie and Rosco have created something to be proud of here, and whilst this is a career high, I’m sure there’s plenty more where this came from. She’s an important artist, and she’s on tour in the UK very soon. Ignore her at your peril.
01. Start With the Corners (2:46)
02. Donovan Ellington (5:39)
03. Donny Part Two (3:38)
04. The War (0:53)
05. Duet (7:24)
06. Tristitia Amnesia (7:08)
07. Scared of the Dark (3:34)
08. God is A Verb (1:33)
09. Suck Push Bang Blow (5:08)
10. The Liner Notes (6:40)
~ Limited Edition Bonus Tracks:
11. Number 149 (4:12)
12. Fossil Song (4:45)
Total Time – 53:20
Rosalie Cunningham & Rosco Wilson – All Voices & Instruments
Ric Sanders – Fiddle
Record Label: Esoteric Antenna
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th February 2022