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Esther Rose finds salvation with Safe To Run

"Safe To Run"

Release date: 21 April 2023
Esther Rose - Safe To Run cover
11 April 2023, 09:00 Written by Tom Williams

Esther Rose is certainly familiar with what it feels like to be uprooted, moving from Michigan to New Orleans after her formative years, and most recently from New Orleans to Santa Fe; where the two year writing process for Safe to Run began.

If Rose’s previous LP, the gorgeous How Many Times, embraced and renewed New Orleans country music traditions, her newest LP carries the wandering spirit of life on the road – an album heavy on nostalgia, endless possibility and lingering anxieties.

The album’s centrepiece and title track, a collab with Hurray For The Riff Raff, is a wistful, patient meditation on rootlessness, doubt and travel – a very 21st-century anthem, where the promise of starting anew is encroached on by the climate crisis. Growing fires, rising water levels and overconsumption are given voice across five minutes, complicating already weighty questions about the future. In a moment reminiscent of Lucinda Williams's “Side of The Road”, Rose looks in on the seemingly tranquil homes of new parents raising their babies. “Can I have it like that / Am I bound to run?” she wonders, eluded by clarity.

Nihilism ultimately wins out on the title track (“Let the angels find me / I don’t care / If the whiskey drowns me”). Still, the rest of the album stands as a testament to enduring survival and the lessons we learn during life’s most challenging moments. The deceptively peppy “Chet Baker” meditates on reckless youth, offering gratitude for surviving it and empathy for a younger, wayward former self. In the context of an album centred around life’s biggest questions, the buoyant lead single stands as a testament to the simple beauty of youth – how there’s nothing that “a shot and a beer” can’t seem to solve.

A four-track run from “Spider” to “New Magic II” – which includes the title track and “St. Francis Waltz” – proves a career best for Rose, housing her most affecting tunes yet. The twangy “Spider” – the closest sonic companion to How Many Times – is darkly intoxicating, as nostalgia draws Rose back towards a troubled, old relationship. “St. Francis Waltz” is a staggering document of self-doubt – a string-heavy lament that sees Rose wonder “How does it feel to come home to me?” Her mournful voice delivered with a slight quiver suggests she already knows the answer to her own question. The following “New Magic II”, confirms such, as she sings of needing to “improve me” to become someone a longtime companion can recognise once again.

Such a moving four-track run is hard to follow up and Rose is seemingly aware of this – rather than trying to mine similar emotional depths across the album’s remainder, she rounds off the album with a series of light, quietly cathartic numbers. The breezy “Dream Girl” is a rarity for focusing on someone else other than the song’s narrator – a rags-to-riches tale of a hometown girl who makes it big in Hollywood. Meanwhile, much of “Insecure” is seemingly sung with a knowing wink – nowhere more so than when Rose declares “I know you love me because you buy me shit.”

Conversational closer “Arm’s Length” is a fitting, quietly cathartic closer - a surreal moment of manifestation, fit with images of flying around Heaven and being greeted by an excitable pack of puppies. “Come on Jesus, don’t you die for me / You take yourself so seriously!”, exclaims Rose. Safe To Run is an album filled with serious questions and moments of existential doubt – the album title reads as more of a question than a declaration. Such concerns are sure to outlast the album’s 42-minute runtime, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still find moments to shrug off even our greatest concerns and find salvation.

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