Inspired by the honest writing and timeless melodies of American greats such as Hank Williams Sr. and Joni Mitchell, Esther Rose’s songwriting has been called “The happiest saddest music.” Her 2017 debut, This Time Last Night, caught fire as her listeners tuned-in to a storied chronology of this soulful, heart-worn artist.
Influenced heavily by the collective pulse of her New Orleans musical community, Esther’s distinct sound began early in her Michigan upbringing. Reared on gospel records and folk songs on the family farm, she learned to sing the high end of three-part harmonies with her sisters. Rose moved to New Orleans in 2010 and became an active player in the traditional jazz and blues scene as a singer and percussionist, gigging regularly on Frenchmen Street and touring both at home and abroad.
Last spring, my booking agent called me and asked if I wanted to support Nick Lowe on his upcoming solo tour. I said yes. I knew a couple of the hits, but I was mostly naive to his prolific catalogue and collaborations. As I was getting ready for travel, my friends would say “The Nick Lowe?” My guitar player Ric Robertson was over the moon: “He’s a kindred spirit, you’ll see. listen to Jesus of Cool.”
The first thing I learned was that it’s impossible to meet Nick Lowe and not fall in love. He has bright blue twinkling eyes and smells like a vanilla milkshake went to an opium den, (a fancy cologne that I won’t mention here, because they didn’t pay me to advertise). His traveling clothes were always neatly folded over his shoes somewhere unexpected backstage. Even in the midst of rigorous travel days, he would take time to have a genuine exchange with Ric and me, or tell some winding story.
And of course, as everybody but me already knew, his songs are incredible, hence the title of his traveling show Quality Rock & Roll Revue, which is composed of perfect two-and-a-half minute high-energy pop tunes spanning his 40-plus year career. But the song that struck me, night after night, was one of his most recent and more mellow songs called “Blue on Blue.” As soon as I heard the first guitar strum, I would creep from my dark place backstage and get as close as possible to bask in the magic of that song. It put a spell on me, and I needed to figure out why.
I asked Nick’s sound engineer and partner-in-crime Tuck Nelson for the chords — nothing too out of the ordinary there. I asked Nick how he wrote the song, and I believe his exact words were “Oh, I was just in a mood” which captures everything and nothing about the complexities of songwriting.
The song continued to haunt me after the tour ended, so I decided to give it a go with my band. We recorded our mid-tempo version live with a reel-to-reel. I found that “Blue” is more tricky than it seems — the chord changes are sneaky and as soon as you get comfortable with one bit, it’s already on to the next. The lyrics and melody are so strong and repetitive that it is almost trance-like to sing. Here’s why I like singing and writing songs about obsessive love and longing: You can sing your guts out and be as creepy and sad as you want, and then after three minutes, you’re done and you’re OK. You’ve moved on. The best songs make space for all that terrible longing.
I sent our cover to Nick and here’s what he had to say about it: “I’m so pleased not only that you heard something in the song that touched you in the first place, but also that whatever it was stuck around long enough for you to want to cut it yourself. I think you achieved a great balance between the bitter and the sweet elements of the song, and by doing so have put your stamp firmly on it.”
I decided to release our version of “Blue” on my upcoming covers EP. I took on some very iconic American classics, which is why I chose to name the EP My Favorite Mistakes (emphasis on mistakes), because only time will tell if I reawakened these songs or simply botched them up.
My Favorite Mistakes will be out May 29 via Father/Daughter Records and is available for pre-order now.