Esther Rose needed time and space.
The songwriter took a step back at the end of a relationship, moving around the United States three times before finally settling somewhere new.
Along the way she kept playing live shows, kept communicating with fans, all while preparing her next step.
Out now, her beautiful new album 'How Many Times' matches country inflections to personal observations, a song cycle about recovery and renewal.
As she puts it: “It’s not really just about feeling better, it’s about feeling it, whatever it is.”
Largely written and recorded on her 1962 Gibson ES-120T, her first semi-hollow body electric guitar, the material dives into her roots, while opening up fresh avenues for expression.
Clash invited Esther Rose to break down some of her songwriting inspirations...
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Joni Mitchell - 'This Flight Tonight'
This song is off the massive 'Blue' record on which every song is a hit, but this song does something incredibly special to me. There’s the rush of anticipation when you’re about to see someone you’ve been pining for. Hesitation, excitement and doubt all wrapped up. I’m immediately drawn in by the storytelling magic of the first line:
Look to the left the captain said
Down there that’s where we’ll land
I saw a falling star burn out above the Las Vegas sand
This song sounds like it was recorded live in one take. Possibly James Taylor playing guitar alongside? There’s this perfect moment where Joni blows out the mic with this gorgeous high note.The production is so playful; Joni sampled a rock 'n' roll song she was listening to at the time and stuck it in the middle of the verse.
I think this is the perfect gateway song to get into Joni’s catalogue. It’s an easygoing rocker with a steady drive, great vibe and hooky melodies.
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Duff Thompson - 'Crab Walk!'
I’ll never forget the first time I heard this song. At the time I was living on Deslonde St. and my neighbour Sam Doores sang it for us by the fire.
It was one of those moments... the quiet when he finished it, everyone sitting in shocked silence, him telling us his friend Duff Thompson wrote the song and that Duff was coming down from Canada that summer with his reel-to-reel to make some recordings. I remember thinking I want to write a song that good someday.
There’s just some unexplainable essence to the song, some way of being alive in the world that really comes through. It’s grumpy, tender, funny, and very Duff. 'Crab Walk!' is The Song That Swept the Neighborhood, as everyone that heard it loved it and learned it.
I can do a good crab walk honey child when I want
We can lie down face flat on the floor for a laugh
We can do the mashed potato anytime that we want
Duff Thompson did indeed park his van in the empty lot next to our houses for the summer, and we named that territory New Canada. He was the first person to record my songs. My love for this song is connected to my love for a place and time in my life, when I was just beginning my songwriting journey.
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The Chicks - 'Wide Open Spaces'
I feel a bit self conscious about adding this to the list, but this song has been in heavy rotation since my recent relocation to New Mexico. It feels extremely current and also loaded with nostalgia.
Growing up, we lived in rural Michigan and my Dad had this album on tape cassette in his truck, along with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 'Come On Come On'. My two sisters and I adored it. We would come home from school, learn every word of every song and try our hand at three part harmonies.
Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
Listening to it now, as an adult and a songwriter, this song stands the test of time. It feels like a breakthrough and I wonder how excited The Chicks must’ve felt when they finished it. Could they have known how many little girls in the Midwest would scream-sing every word?
It’s this gorgeous portrait of a young person finding independence. There’s no mention of a man or partner or heartbreak, it’s centered on the growth of the young woman. I feel like there’s a sense of foreshadowing in the narrative that’s also very exciting, she knows the high stakes, as if the perspective is from someone looking back at their youth and seeing the wisdom in that wildness.
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Kiki Cavazos - 'Two Bit Gambler'
This one is a real humdinger.
Kiki is someone who has blown in and out of New Orleans for as long as I’ve been around, bringing better songs and more experience than her fair share. She is a cagey and enchanting performer, either looking for the exit or lost in song.
I love 'Two Bit Gambler' the way I love short goodbyes, car door slams, the first sip of a cold beer, puppies and kisses and moon rise. It’s a waltz with gorgeous chord changes and a relatable story: falling in love, diving in, getting scared, leaving town.
Oh, but didn’t you tell me
You was sure gonna miss me
Front porch sipping whiskey
Well I’m wondering today if you do
Cause I sure miss the hell oughta you
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Gerry Rafferty - 'Right Down The Line'
I heard this one recently and it’s become my go-to spark of positive energy. It feels like that true-blue moment of confessional love that rarely turns into a song without becoming corny. I believe the power in this song to refrain from corniness is because of chorus:
I just want to say this is my way of telling you everything
That I could never could say before
Yeah this is my way of telling you
That everyday i’m loving you so much more
This is obviously a person using songwriting to share what’s in their heart - and there’s nothing corny about that. I’ve found that some emotions are impossibly difficult to speak in normal conversation. How many times have you sent your crush a song so they’d understand what’s in your heart?
Another interesting thing about this song is wondering if it was written at a low point, to bring or gain trust back. Either way it’s totally loaded with real feelings and the tempo rocks, the production is snappy and close, and the chorus just sets me free. Also of note is that it’s incredibly coverable: both Bonnie Raitt and Sam Evian’s versions hit hard.
The only line I object to is this:
Threw away all those crazy dreams
I put them all behind
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'How Many Times' is out now on Full Time Hobby.
Photo Credit: Akasha Rabut
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