Blue Roses, the pseudonym Laura Groves chose to represent the ramshackle group of musicians that play on this, her debut, is an odd choice when you consider that actual blue roses can only be made by artificial means.
No actual blue rose exists in nature at all and to create one you need to use genetic engineering and all sorts of modern technology. It’s odd then that Blue Roses the album sounds seemingly untouched by anything approaching modern experimentation, with delicate instrumentation (mainly acoustic) and fragile melodies creeping slowly out of the speakers.
In a music industry where background and context are poured over as much as the music itself, it’s worth noting that Blue Roses appear unencumbered by tales of, for example, recording in the woods for months following the demise of a relationship, nor do they emerge blinking in the light of unimaginable hype. Rather, the tale is simple; bored songwriter from Yorkshire borrows guitar, writes some songs, ropes in some friends to help and records in kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms across the north.
Such a simple and relaxed gestation is obvious throughout the 10 songs. Opener Greatest Thoughts is a delicate piano-lead tale of being left alone, its undulating tempo and melody reminiscent of Joanna Newsom at her most wordy. Like Newsom, Groves has a voice that seems to sweep from hushed and touching to high-pitched and almost shrill at the drop of a hat.
In the main she uses it to wonderful effect, creating swirling, almost operatic backing vocals on Cover Your Tracks and when the choir of voices arrives in highlight Does Anyone Love Me Now? it’s simply beautiful. Only on a few occasions does the voice grate and at the beginning of Cover Your Tracks she sounds not unlike a young Aled Jones limbering up for another crack at The Snowman theme, Walking In The Air.
Musically the album centres on the acoustic guitar, but there are numerous embellishments that arrive as unexpectedly as a warm breeze. I Am Leaving features shuffling percussion, fingerpicked guitar and, surprisingly, a fuzzed-up keyboard riff that coalesces with a multi-tracked choir of background singers. Debut single Doubtful Comforts is built solely around a kalimba, a kind of thumb piano, whilst the PJ Harvey-esque Rebecca strips away the excess to reveal a crudely played electric guitar and a relentless bass drum.
Blue Roses is a startling debut, a record that oozes warmth and charm whilst revealing itself slowly and patiently. It’s the kind of album that you’ll want to recommend and that suits a word-of-mouth popularity. It’s a hushed secret or a haunting presence, not something that sings its own praises or gives a knowing wink every time an obvious influence flashes by. It may not be an album that expects to be sat near the top of lists come the year’s end, but Laura Groves and Blue Roses need to be prepared for that eventuality.