Bay Area country-folk artist Lia Rose  is a ball of sunshine both on stage and off. But if you listened to her songs, you’d know it’s not because life’s been easy, it’s just that she’s chosen to face its struggles head on, chin up.
Rose played the Great American Music Hall with Blame Sally in early May and performed on NPR’s West Coast Live in April, where she met author Ruth Ozeki, with whom she’s currently collaborating on a song. Her second full-length solo album Bricks and Bones will be released this Sat/20, the night of her record-release party at the Chapel in San Francisco. In short, the bubbly, talented musician is doing quite well.
After listening to an early preview of Bricks and Bones, I noticed quite a few differences from her first two albums When You Need Me Most (self-released, 2011) and Conspire (self-released, 2012). Most obvious of these changes is an overall sunnier sound. Though there are darker toned tracks, like “Mary Edith Barnes” and “Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine,” Rose has emerged more self-informed and in control than ever before, and paradoxically, it was when she let go and let others in to her process.
When the graceful singer walked into Haus Coffee, a café in the Mission on 24th Street, to meet me with a broad smile, I wanted to hear from her firsthand how these differences came about.
She’s certainly changed things around both with the new album and in her live performances.
“I don’t want every show to be the same,” Rose told me in between bites of a veggie galette and sips of green tea. “I tend to just keep my options open and play with quite a lot of folks. I like to adapt the show to the particular audience.”
This album has been a big opportunity for her to not only evolve as an artist, but also to collaborate – something that wasn’t so simple for her in the past.
On Bricks and Bones, though, Gawain Mathews assisted Rose with recording, and contributed acoustic guitar, piano, and bass lines, Charlie Wilson and John Kirchner with engineering, Michael Fecskes on cello, and Kelly McFarling with harmonies. And Rose couldn’t be happier with her decision to broaden her horizon.
“I started to do a lot of coproducing and co-writing, and that has been awesome because I think it becomes way better than anything I could have done on my own. And that’s the case for sure on this album because I got to work with Gawain Mathews.”
For the artist whose first musical memory is of jumping on the bed at the age of 3, screaming Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” at the top of her lungs, music has long been an integral part of life. This is why it took her a while to work up the courage to let others in on her creative process.
“It takes a lot of trust – a lot of letting go of what you think it’s supposed to be.”
Rose has tried being the only captain on the ship before, and it’s turned out alright, according to her. But that wasn’t what she was looking for this time around.
“If I stayed control freak on the whole project, which I’ve done in the past – which I can do – it’ll turn out fine. But it won’t be the magic. The magic comes, I think, when you can let go of that control and surround yourself with folks who you love the paint that they throw. And letting go and letting it be something that maybe doesn’t sound right to you right away.”
To me, Bricks and Bones sounded great upon first listen, but even better upon second. Filled with lively, acoustic-heavy twang and stomp, and spitting lyrics – that prove there may just be some fire in this graceful being after all.
“I’m like a loaded mousetrap or a hairpin trigger/I will bite, I will scratch/There’s no tellin’ what I’ll do/It’s a bad state I’m in,” sings Rose in “Trainwreck Tuesday,” letting us know there’s more to her than the soft, gentle side you’ll likely see if you meet her.
Rose seems to have come even more into her own on these tracks, singing of facing down her fears (“Snake in the Water”) and simple straightforward romance (“Secret Stories”).
It’s true, this album is a natural evolution for Rose, but there is one constant – the quality. Her vocals have never been so pure and the dreamy melodies are still present on Bricks and Bones.
Though her album’s title implies a solid, unmoving structure, Rose’s sound is anything but rigid.
“I feel like you’ve got to be able to bend, otherwise you’ll break,” she said.
This is the way the album plays out – it’s quite flexible.
It moves through the angry steam of “Trainwreck Tuesday,” to a cover of “Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine,” a haunting folk tune written by Avi Vinocur of band Goodnight, Texas about a man who met death before his wedding.
You can hear the progression for yourself on Bricks and Bones and even celebrate with her at her live show at the Chapel on July 20. Listen to the angelic vocals of Lia Rose, get lost in her rich acoustic melodies. But don’t expect it to be all lollipops and rainbows. She will bite.