Neotraditional country and 1950s doo wop aren’t two sounds that you would expect to hear on the same album. And yet, on her album Rule 62, Whitney Rose manages to merge the sounds perfectly. The singer gives us a beautifully realized final product, a wonderful blend of genres and a triumph of sound and instrumentation to begin with.
Most songs are a blend of the two genres: classic country’s steel guitars, pianos, and harmonizing are mixed with a doo wop sound and musical structure. Obviously, some songs slide towards one end of the spectrum over the other: “You’re A Mess” is exceedingly doo wop while the amazing opening track, “I Don’t Want Half”, is pure classic country. If I had to pick a side, I would say that Rose shines more on the country influenced tracks than the 1950s influenced tracks. Those tracks have a much stronger sound, realized by the all star backing band that Rose has assembled including Aaron Till from Asleep at the Wheel and Paul Deacon of The Mavericks. As mentioned earlier, “I Don’t Want Half” is a stand-out track, an updated version of that classic country twang sound. Another highlight, “Arizona,” combines retro guitars, saxophone, and horns for a fun, bright sound. That’s not to say that the more 1950s influenced tracks are bad or weak links: it’s comparing an A grade to a B grade. Both are good, but one’s just a little bit better.
Rose dives deep into Americana, playing with country themes and motifs. It’s interesting that two of the songs on the album are about trucking: “Tied to the Wheel” and “Trucker’s Funeral.” “Trucker’s Funeral” is very much a classic country song, as Rose describes the funeral of the singer’s trucker father and how at a trucker’s funeral, be prepared for some surprises. “Tied to the Wheel” is undoubtedly the more interesting of the two: Rose sings it from the perspective of the trucker herself. The song is a relatively straightforward trucker ballad, but the fact that the song plays with gender expectations via the female vocalist is an interesting take. Simply put, there aren’t that many female trucker songs, so even if Rose doesn’t explicitly gender the ballad in certain ways, she still is providing a wrinkle to the conversation and adding something new to the table.
One of the album’s greatest strengths is Rose’s voice. Her modern vocal styles contrast wonderfully with some of the more traditional sounds of the album. No matter the song, her voice is calm and lilting. Rose sings in a gentle style, wisely backing away from belting or seeming overwrought. She can certainly get emotional if needed: “You Don’t Scare Me” gives sincerity and heart in the lyrics, as Rose smartly underplays it instead of blowing the song out of the water. However, this soft vocal tone doesn’t work for all songs. The most notable misstep is “Can’t Stop Shaking.” The cowboy ballad instrumentation is pitch-perfect, but it’s not a good idea to have such a sleepy sounding voice on a song with this title. Rose barely musters any emotion that could work with any type of ‘shaking.’
The album’s title, Rule 62, comes from an Alcoholics Anonymous maxim. Roughly speaking, rule 62 means “don’t take yourself too damn seriously.” With respect to Rose, that doesn’t apply to this album. Rule 62 is a wonderfully crafted blend of genres with beautiful instrumentation and arrangement that it simply begs to be taken seriously in the first place.